This month like many other athletes I would have been racing in another triathlon.
It would have been another half-IRONMAN distance race for me. I’m not going to lie and pretend I know exactly how many half-IRONMANS I have raced because I don't. If I venture to guess it is around 10 or more.
For me it has never been about the races. I like to train first and foremost. I get more joy out of training, day in and day out than I do in racing. I love the lifestyle and love the benefits training daily brings to my life.
I only race one or two races per year and very rarely do I jump into the local sprint tri or 5K. I don’t consider myself any less of an athlete because of it. I fully embrace the sport and year round I am training as a multisport athlete.
At different times of the year I may prioritize one sport over the other, but year round I am training. Don’t get me wrong, I obviously like to race, otherwise I wouldn’t spend the time and money on them. What I always liked most about racing is “putting it all together." I like combining all three sports along with the transitions, the nutrition, the environmental elements and figuring out the best way to manage them all on that particular day.
Race week reminds me of my college life playing lacrosse at the NCAA level. It is during this week when no matter what you have done in the previous weeks within the confines of your life’s schedule you fully live and prepare like an athlete. Day to day chores and distractions are put aside and placed on hold as you fine tune your focus to race on Sunday. In college there was less responsibility and obligations so your life in a sense revolved around lacrosse.
With no race this upcoming Sunday I felt something I never felt before — or, now that I've had time to reflect on the sport of triathlon — I've realized there is so much more than just training that brings me joy.
I miss the whole vibe of race week.
I miss setting time aside to adjust equipment and prepare nutrition — tasks that are usually relegated to a rushed five minutes prior to beginning a workout.
I miss planning with friends the drive to the race and the drive itself catching up about life and talking about our race day expectations and sharing race day tips and equipment preferences.
I miss meeting up with other friends at the expo and the pre-race dinner where new faces always join the crowd. Here again we talk about race day expectations and you get to see what makes some athletes nervous and what doesn’t.
There are oftentimes an athlete who is racing their first race and there is never a shortage of opinions given to them as if they aren’t unsure of themselves already. I am usually very happy to be and to do things alone, but I am now realizing how much those social interactions mean.
I miss knowing how little you will sleep and the exhaustion you will feel after the race from your effort and lack of sleep, thereby justifying how late you sleep the next night.
I’ll miss the first meal after the race and how satisfying it is to be replenishing an utterly depleted body. There is also packet pick up, bike racking and the race morning jitters.
It all brings joy, never seems to get old and contributes to the overall race experience.
Finally, there is the race itself. It never ceases to amaze the efforts each and every athlete makes. To know the sacrifices they have also made and to watch them race alongside you.
There is something to be said about sharing the joy and suffering with a couple thousand strangers all finding their own why. In some way, it further justifies how we choose to spend our time and live our life.
Races will return and the lights that line the finishing chute will shine again. When they do, race directors will likely change the logistics of how we as athletes participate. When I did my first triathlon I had no idea what to expect. When I do my next triathlon I may again not have a full idea of what to expect because of the changes.
I do know for certain though that I am now more than ever looking forward to experiencing a race again with the hope of finding new joy to add to my love of the sport.
Christopher Breen, PA-C, ACSM EP-C is a Certified Physician Assistant specializing in sports medicine and orthopaedics, a Certified Exercise Physiologist by The American College of Sports Medicine, and a USAT Level 1 Certified Triathlon Coach. He is the founder and head coach of ARIA Endurance Coaching, LLC and also works at NYU Winthrop Orthopaedic Assoc., PC in Long Island, NY. He can be reached at www.ariaendurance.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.