Last week I asked my Facebook friends for ideas on a topic for our Ironman eNewsletter. Of course those racing wanted to know about the race and what to expect. But those who were not racing were more curious about my experience training and how come I wanted to line up this year at age 50. I posted on Facebook some tips and what to expect if you are competing, but here I will concentrate on the second suggestion. Why am I doing this race this year?
To explain why I am doing this you have to look into the entire psychology of why people compete. You can even go back to childhood and see that some things are just normal behavior for humans. I can take a look at my kids and see them race their friends around the yard for no apparent reason other than to try to win and have some fun. Researchers have found some general reasons that bring people to compete.
Many compete for the thrill of it. I am not a thrill seeking individual, or at least I do not feel like one. But when you train your body to do something that seems hard to do and you are going fast and feeling great, that is a great feeling. Many people not associated with athletics and some that are associated with athletics think that endurance sports are all about pain management. Sure there is pain, but when you do well there is no pain and you can find that zone that makes one feel invincible. That is a thrill. I am always looking for that thrill.
Many compete out of curiosity. I often get emails from people who ask me if I think they can finish an Ironman, or they ask me if I think they can break 11 hours or 10 hours or qualify for Kona. The reality is that I can only guess on this and I can be wrong on my guess. The only way to find out is by trying. Anyone can sit and say they can do this or not do this and I am guilty of it myself. But every once in a while you just have to go try it and see. We are all curious.
Many compete for the identity it gives them. Everyone has a personal identity. Just the other day I bumped into a guy who I worked with 20 years ago. I could not remember him or his name (I am getting old you know). One thing he remembered, though, was that I was a triathlete. Whether I like it or not many people look at me this way. Even when I was young I really did not like to be tagged with a certain identity, but now that I combine my passion and my work there is nothing I can do about it. I am a triathlete. Even last year my son introduced me to his school friends, "hi guys this is my dad, he is a triathlete".
Many compete for the status it gives them. There is always a sense of status for being a triathlete. Add to that doing the Hawaii Ironman and you may be in the local paper. I no longer do it for this reason, but of course some people continue to think it is just incredible to go the distance and handle the heat and the wind etc. That is how I personally felt about those doing Hawaii before I ever did it. If I think about it, I started into endurance athletics when I was 12 and saw the kid that won my school turkey trot. That was cool I thought. It took me a while, but I won it a few years later. There is certainly a status associated with doing something most people cannot do.
Many compete because of their community. I live in Boulder, Colorado, and I do not think there are more Hawaii Ironman finishers per capita anywhere else in the world. It is really not as big of a deal to finish Kona here, but if you want to be considered a bona fide triathlete, it would help to have finished Kona. Even at my own health club, there are three of us doing the race this year. There is a lot more to Boulder than triathlon and Ironman, but in the line of work I do and the people I hang out with, doing Kona goes with the territory.
Many compete because it's part of a tradition. This certainly applies in my case as Kona is a race that has tradition. This race is the ultimate race in our sport, and not even the Olympic triathlon every four years compares. I certainly would not have made it the focus of my year if this race was not what it is.
Many compete for money. I do not compete for money, and competing in triathlon is a hard way to make a living. However, now that I coach triathlon, I can see how it helps me become a better coach by participating in Kona at age 50 thus creating an indirect relationship with my income. I think it will help me become a better coach for sure.
Finally, I compete and I will try to finish the Hawaii Ironman next week simply because I think I can and I have been given this opportunity. I asked my wife and kids if I could race this year taking time away from them, and they have supported me all the way. Now I have to get to that finish line to complete the journey.