A year ago, Ted, Charlie and I traveled here to Penticton, B.C., to watch Ironman Canada 2005 and then get up very early in the morning to stand in line in the rain in order to sign up for the 2006 version. Now a year later we are back here, but this time with our wives and kids. All in all, our little party is ten strong; but only two, Charlie and I, will actually race. But together, we are a whimsical, tongue-in-cheek, but-oh-so-important team: “Team Glow Stick”. A team of friends, wives and kids cheering on two middle aged guys who doing something that makes most people just shake their heads.
This is the beauty and irony of triathlon. While it is officially and technically an individual sport (and the rules are very strict prohibiting any on-course support, or any “drafting” on the bike) every triathlete will tell you that it’s virtually impossible to do one of these Ironman things alone.
A family that understands the amount of hours that go into training and will allow the triathlete a certain amount of necessary self-absorption as the race nears, friends who will support, cheer, and encourage you along the way (like many of you reading this!), training partners to get you out of bed for 6 hour training rides and three hour training runs (and make it much more fun), coaches (both virtual and literal) who teach you what to do, wear, eat, drink (and most importantly what NOT to), books, resources and websites, massage therapists and physical therapists, a huge crowd of race organizers and volunteers on race day and the throng of people cheering all day and into the night is not a luxury but a genuine necessity when you are stretching yourself so thin in pursuit of a goal.
Anyone who participates in triathlon events must be prepared for long hours by oneself in training, and on the road on race day, but everyone I know will also tell you that another clear lesson you learn along the way is:
Anything worth doing is worth doing with other people.
Certainly one COULD train, travel, and compete all alone. Indeed, one could skip the whole Ironman event hoopla and just get up one morning and swim, bike and run all the distances for a “do-it-yourself-Ironman”. But besides the obvious danger from going alone, something huge and very human gets missed: the shared experience. The reminder of our connectedness, the fact that we were created to go through life, and face challenges, in community.
In my very first half-Ironman event two and half years ago, I traveled to the race sight by myself in the morning (I knew only one other person competing and he was in another heat so we didn’t see each other all day). I came out of the water disoriented and so tired that I already doubted whether I could finish the six-plus hours in front of me. But, as I got on my bike, and began to head out on to the 56 mile course, I heard a voice, “TOD, TOD. Go TOD!” I looked up and there was my friend, Al. 75 years old, gray hair, beaming face. He’d walked a mile to stand next to the route and waited about two hours to watch me zoom by in less than ten seconds.
The burst of energy that I felt was only matched by the wave of emotion. Tears started streaming down my face and they didn’t stop all day. A few miles later I saw two members of my church waving to me; at a big bike turn, my wife and kids were holding up signs and cheering me on (my wife’s said, "#1228: You’re Hot!"—which of course was my number); later when I was on the run, my family, Ted and Charlie and Charlie's family and another friend from church all took a spot where they could watch me pass by four times, their cheers growing louder as my energy waned—providing the perfect pick me up.
While so much of what drives us to take on the challenge of triathlon is the desire to see what we can accomplish individually, make know mistake that none of us are doing this “all by myself.”
Just like (as someone once wrote) “it takes a church to raise a Christian”, it certainly takes a team to make a triathlete. Whether it is the “race” of life or the “race of a lifetime”, we are not meant to go it alone. Anything worth doing is worth doing with other people.