There's an old story about a young man from humble beginnings who makes it big in business. To reward himself, he purchases a large boat and on its maiden voyage he throws a party on deck. Proud of his accomplishment, he invited his parents on board to celebrate. He's especially eager to welcome his father because he served in the navy in the great war. On the day of the party the young man gave his friends a grand tour of the boat carefully pointing out the features of the vessel; the sail, the radios, the helm, the wheel, even his new white Captain's hat. At the end of the tour his father pulls his son aside to say, "To your friends you're a Captain, to me and your mother you're a Captain, but to a Captain you're no Captain."
Now, replace the father and young man with me and the word "Captain" with "triathlete" and you'll understand my dilemma.
I have the title of triathlete, but do I have the credibility? In my self-debate on the matter, my title withers under the mantle of the sport because not since last year have I raced in a triathlon and the absence weighs heavy on my mind. The last time I joined the ranks of the triathlon faithful was Ironman Wisconsin, and only seven weeks before that it was Ironman Lake Placid. For some, two Ironman races within two months would be a lifetime's accomplishment alone but I'm not one to be satisfied with yesterday's efforts. This is 2010 and, as of today, I haven't raced in a single mutlisport event. The one half-marathon and three 5-kilometer runs I completed earlier this year were just that, runs. Undoubtedly, worthwhile training for triathlon but without a swim and bike, a run-only-event is like spaghetti and meatballs without sauce and noodles. Adding to my dilemma of the audacity of calling myself a triathlete is my dropping out of the Boston Marathon and what was to be my first triathlon of the year, the Capital of Texas Triathlon on Memorial Day. It seems lately even my meatballs are small.
Breaking the great toe on my right foot in April is the reason for the race drop outs and who could blame me for setting up my spectator's chair for a few months? As I have painfully learned, a broken bone, especially on the foot, is a powerful deterrent to training, let alone racing. I have also found out its a powerful depressant.
It's been said that in time, my body would heal; and this I knew beforehand but after the bone healed there remained a looming unknown. The unknown of the return and the fullness of the recovery. When the accident happened I understood I'd have to break my race plans but what I didn't see coming was the breaking of my spirit; the very thing that makes a triathlete. Some would say what makes a triathlete a triathlete is completing a triathlon. A fairly simple standard to meet but not one I consider valid. Stringing together a swim, bike and run merely means you completed a triathlon but it doesn't forever make a triathlete. If you're new to the sport and somebody told you that once you cross the finish line you'll always be a triathlete, I'm sorry to break the news to you but it's not true. Captains are not made just because they but a boat and a hat and triathletes are not ordained triathletes just because of a finisher's medal. What makes a triathlete is the training, racing, and, most importantly the spirit. You must have all three, together, at the same time. None of which I have today. This despite having finished four Ironmans and oodles of shorter distance races.
Or this that had?
Since the break, I swam a bit, biked around 20 miles a time or two, and walked a couple of miles a few times a week. Gradually I extended both time and distance as the pain in my foot allowed. Today, at the start of my first post-break, 30-mile ride and 45-minute run, I had aspirations of completing the run with enough flair prove the broken toe didn't slow me down at all. By the time I hopped off of the bike the temperatures were approaching a brutal 100 degrees for a run. Within a minute I was struggling with both the road and inner demons. My toe hurt and my lungs burned with every heavy-legged stride. Together they evoked the self-doubting negative talk which can kill the desire to achieve. I wanted desperately to run well but my body was breaking down and so was my resolve. Clearly, it was too much too soon but I wanted to complete the 45-minutes of running so badly I'd do it even if I had to walk. Why didn't I pack it in and regroup another day? But if I quit now, wouldn't it make quitting easier in the future? How badly did I want it? What was I willing to pay, physically and emotionally? Is it foolish to push myself during recovery while desiring to pick back up like nothing had happened?
The better angels of my nature prevailed. I finished with a throbbing foot only stopping to walk a total of ten minutes. However, the fact remains, I couldn't complete a standard distance workout without stopping. Neither a captain or triathlete is he?
Still, I pressed on. Perceptions will be what they might but I could do something -- not much, but something -- real toward the person I want to be, a triathlete.
During the last half of the run I thought about how anyone waging in the skirmishes of a premature recovery (surely I wasn't the only one) was reflecting precisely the self-overcoming and personal transformation that animate the philosophy of the late 19th century philosopher Fredrich Nietzsche.
Nietzsche insisted that inner conflict was inescapable. Human beings embody multiple drives, deep ambiguity and ambivalence, and internally mirror the ongoing flux of the cosmos. Refusing to accept what he took to be the false consolations of religion, Neitzsche was convinced that our world lacks inherent meaning and value. We can call this belief in "cosmic meaninglessness." As such, the only meaning and value possible must be humanly constructed and fragile.
Is not this lack of inherent cosmic meaning and purpose challenging us to respond positively? To accept our lives in their entireties and to fashion them in such a way that we luxuriate in our time on earth without the distractions of resentments.
He wrote, "My formula for greatness in a human being is amor fati: that one wants nothing to be different, not forward, not backward, not in all eternity. Not merely bear what is necessary, still less conceal it -- all idealism is mendaciousness in the face of what is necessary -- but love it."
Amor fati, then captures a high human value: maximally affirming life with full understanding of its tragic dimensions. Breaking a bone and having to drop out of races being one of them. An abundantly healthy spirit respects the order of rank based on merit, cherish opportunities for self-transformation through struggle and rich exertion, seek personal challenges from motives of joy and love of life, and scorn cowardly hopes for pity and rationalization's salvation.
This is my only life on earth and if I confront it with aesthetic creativity and a full heart it will be quite enough.
My hope is I can someday call myself a triathlete.
My hope is I can someday call myself a triathlete.