Over the last few weeks, I’ve been running on the Carolina Thread Trail. It’s an easy on the knees trail along Lake Wylie that’s connected to the Danial Stowe Botanical Gardens about a mile from where I live. Starting at the trail head the out and back trip is around 5.2 miles. It’s just enough to make it an interesting and moderately challenging run.
My latest run was made more interesting when I stumbled into a friend who was riding his mountain bike. We stopped to chat and I mentioned to him that I used to do a lot of running and triathlons. In fact, I was wearing my shirt from the Baltimore 1/2 Marathon. (I love that shirt. Thank you Under Armour!)
Running is the easy part of the sport. To combine it with Cycling and Swimming to compete in an endurance sport adds a whole new dimension. Then tack onto it the periodized training schedules, eating discipline, bicycle mechanics and setup, proper swim technique, transition strategies, proper endurance supplements, and training 3+ hours a day and you’ve got a serious undertaking.
When I was really into the sport, I completed the Richmond Marathon, Baltimore Half Marathon, and dozens of sprint and international distance triathlons in the Southeast. One of my most memorable races was an aqualathon in San Diego that was hosted by the San Diego Triathlon Club (awesome bunch).
The Iron Man race still alludes me. Its pursuit continues to haunt me. During the peak of my training I injured my back and have had a sensitive sciatic nerve every since. The injury sidelined me long enough for me to gain weight and then as my children reached the formative preteen and teen years I scaled back so I could spend the time with them and their activities.
I first became interested in triathlons when I was in high school. It was 1982. One day I was watching ABC Sports and I witnessed one of the most famous events in triathlon history unfold. Julie Moss, dehydrated from a hard race, struggled to reach the finish line, even collapsing a few times and then eventually crawling to the end as Kathleen McCartney passes her for the win. Julie pushed on in spite of her battle and finishes the race.
It’s moments like these that inspire others to persevere and excel to levels that we thought previously unreachable. They inspire us to push through pain, suffering and dedicate hours of our days for years on end to get to that one moment when we stand face to face with our own mortality and are forced to will ourselves to step, even to crawl forward to reach our goals. Julie Moss inspired thousands if not millions in that moment.
My first triathlon was the Lake Hickory Triathlon. It was hosted by a small lakeside community just outside Hickory, NC. The sprint distance triathlon started in the water dock side. The bike was on long rolling hills, but the run was absolutely brutal. It consisted of a 5k with 100 yard long steep rolling hills. It was by far one of the most challenging foot races in all of the triathlons I’ve ever raced.
For me racing in a triathlon was my way of declaring victory over an aging body in its very early stages of decline. I wanted to feel young again and make sure every one knew that I would not quietly succumb to mortality. Now looking back, I see myself then as a young schoolboy with a little learning and no sense of the real world or what I was up against.
Chasing after this dream and pursuing victory had many benefits. The experiences taught me how to set a goal well in advance and work multiple disciplines to accomplish it. It taught me to focus on the details each day to prepare for the competition, that working through the daily challenges means more than what’s done on race day. It taught me many ways to use wisdom instead of brute to achieve a goal. It also taught me that choosing the right race is as important as the training because we all come with different skills.
I still want to accomplish the IronMan, but now I see it as an the mountain that is there to climb rather than a challenge to mortality. While I love the racing, the training, and the application of so much head knowledge, I realize that there’s more to the good race than an IronMan.
Today, I race a better race. This one has an eternal impact on people and the stakes aren’t tied to whether or not we cross the finish line or who makes it across first, but more about how we get there and how many people we can get across the line with us.
Like Julie Moss, Jesus set out on a race. He suffered in a terrible way, but he chose that race and he chose it to show us a different way, a better way. He did it to give us a higher purpose to our lives, lives that have meaning. It’s not about us getting a fat paycheck, a ribbon, or notoriety when its finished, but he does promise those things to his faithful. It’s about getting to the other side of the finish line and living to tell about it later. It was him and only him who was able to look mortality square in the eyes and win, and he wants to bring you with him. We will all still face death but he gives us the ability to shake a fist at mortality and win.
That for me folks is the good race and a race worth running. When I get to the end of my trail, I have the Way to guide me. Do you?