They can be therapeutic. I get to mentally depart from most of my other responsibilities while I prepare for races. I love that I can start my day or interrupt my day to do this.
They can be spiritual. I can talk to God and hear from him, too, when I am out on the roads and trails.
They can be contemplative. When I struggle with larger business issues, I can get a good hour spent thinking and talking out loud about the choices that I need to make. Running and biking can become efforts in risk management, at 160 beats per minute.
On race day, it is different. I think through each step, each action, with great deliberation, no matter how simple they appear to others. They become my focus. Entering a valley on the bike, I ponder how many cogs to change on the bike, when to change them, and what to fix my eyes upon, as I go both up and downhill. I watch my heart rate and power meter, talking to me using only numbers, about how hard I am pushing. They teach me to go harder, most of the time, and seldom offer me a recommendation to slow down.
Last Saturday, at the Grandover Resort up in Greensboro, NC, I competed in a Duathlon which was identical to a race that I did the previous year, on the same weekend. Ironically, that was a new experience. I remain new enough into this sport that all the events that I have done are different than previous ones. I have no repeat performances under my belt, yet.
This weekend, that was not true, and my brain went to different places. I saw a beautiful horse farm on a road that I had missed last year. I saw a tennis court while running that I didn’t see before. And, I went faster than last year, showing that aging doesn’t mean slowing down, as many conclude.
My hill climbs were easier. The downhill rides felt faster. The runs seemed shorter. They were familiar…and that made the experience different.
I was doing well. The first run was fast, and the bike was exceeding my expectations. But it was all too good to last. While changing gears on a hill, the chain fell off the bike. I had to stop and get off the bike to put the chain back on. It cost me 80 seconds of time, and I watched 7 people who had been following me all pass me by while I fiddled with the chain.
Sure, I could and did fix the chain, and I finished the race. However, I had greasy hands for about 30 minutes, and the fallen chain ended up taking me several places down the finish list. I could have done better.
The race that started as “the same as last year,” was anything but. While on the road, fixing the chain, my heart raced. My anxiety went from physically imposed to emotionally imposed, as it angered me to see all my competitors pass me while I messed with a “technical difficulty” that happens to be a part of the course. I guess when a basketball player sees his coach get a technical foul, he feels powerless. I, too, felt powerless trying to get off my bike to put the chain on and get back in the race. And, yes, the other team did make their free throws and pass me.
At the end of the race, I waited to see my son cross the finish line. This was his first race of the year, and with a total running distance of 8 miles and a cycling distance of 20 miles, this was no small burden for this 14 year old to carry. He enjoyed the event and got a prize at the end for being the fastest (and only) 14 and under competitor on the course that day.
He had stomach issues that would make most people want to quit. Yet, he persevered. Hearing his race day story left me feeling that I had an easy day, dealing only with a chain issue, and then, only for 80 seconds. He had a stomach issue that ended poorly and his problem lasted about 15 minutes.
Yet, we are both signed up for several more events, this year. Father and Son events are precious and priceless at this age, as I now have to compete with a girlfriend and others for his time. That he chose to spend a Saturday, with his fanatical father doing an endurance race, is pretty cool.
My friend and competitor Rory came up to me after the race and pointed down to his bike and said, “do you see that? That keeps my chain from falling off. They cost $9. Ebay. I don’t know why I am telling you this, but go get one.”
I ordered two.