Saturday, April 28, 2007

A Letter to Mom

Since IMAZ I have been having a dialogue of sorts with my mom because she was so worried about my race. I'm sure most people don't blog a lot about their correspondence with their parents but I think more than anything else I enjoy a good philosophical musing...I just don't post them a lot because I suspect people would begin to find them rather dull. Anyway, I do think the following is post-worthy if only because it is my thoughts about the sport that we love, the distance we love, c'mon ya'll know you love the 140.6 even if you haven't done one, and maybe most importantly the community we love.
The GEEKGRL got in on this action by posting her own response but without further ado here is a brief note from Mama Baboo along with my response.

"Brian, this time the article came through. It is very interesting. I vaguely remember when Farrar was gov. of SD. He sounds like an amazing man. It's beginning to sink in that this Ironman thing isn't something most people do once or twice, but I still have trouble understanding why someone would do something that sounds so painful and is so punishing on ones body. Maybe I don't have to understand it, just accept it. You may not know this Brian, but I count you as one of my best friends and best friends support and love one another no matter what. But I just want you to be safe too."

and my two cents:

There are those who do try Ironman, or even marathons, just once and then quit. It is usually because they did not train well enough or something went wrong and did experience the event as very punishing. There are also a few who just do it for bragging rights, though I think this is a large minority.

Probably more than any other sport triathlon, especially ultra-distance triathlon like Ironman, is much more a lifestyle than a recreational activity. The same is true of all the ultra endurance sports that I have encountered. I'm sure there are many personal reasons that people get into the sport but once in you discover a huge group of like-minded people with whom you can really feel connected. In one sense it is like a church in that you can be surrounded by people that are a lot like you but in many respects it is not like any other organization because you can not just show up and start attending, you have to pay your dues and earn your way in.

I guess one of the core needs that something like Ironman fulfills in many of the people I meet is the need to prove yourself as someone with true grit for lack of a better term at the moment. In today's society it seems like everyone is a whiner, everyone is ego-centric, everyone is about "give me, give me" and everyone is about developing the IMAGE of something, success, wealth, strength, fitness, importance etc…whatever image it is they want to portray. There is very little that is real. Actually, that's not quite accurate; there is very little that seems real or that you can trust is real.

Mom, when you grew up on a farm your family really worked. You pulled your food from the land through labor literally and figuratively. In either case you were directly connected to life in a very concrete way. I think you can appreciate that this is less the case as time goes on. People are farther removed from the gritty nuts and bolts of life. Everything is shrink wrapped and sanitized for your protection.

Not so in pursuit of the title of Ironman. At the peak of my training I was working out 20 to 22 hours per week. I rode my bike for 100 miles and more in temperatures of 35 degrees or less with winds in excess of 30 mph. I swam for mind numbing hours back and fourth in a pool beginning at 4 in the morning and I ran in the cold and dark with a headlamp, heavy running clothes and nobody else to be seen. This is Ironman, not the race, the race is just gravy, the reward for all your hard work. To work that hard and to earn the right to stand toe-to-toe with so many others who have worked that hard is an honor unparalleled in today's society. Sure, it comes with risks, it comes with pain and even comes with a certain amount of trepidation…there are no guarantees and that is why we love it so. It allows us few an opportunity to embrace life with vigor and enthusiasm.

Borrowing from Walt Whitman's famous line in Leaves of Grass, "I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world"…Ironman is our yawp and I guess no yawp worth yawping is without risk.

And yes, I will be careful.


  1. At some point you'll need to get your Mom out to a race - any distance, and see the folks and the finishers and the cheering and the "tri-feeling" in person. It's got to be hard to grasp without actually being there. She could see that you are definately not alone in your pain and suffering and accomplishment - and therefore not as crazy insane as you seem to be...

  2. Very well said. I think you captured it all, especially the training part. If we don't enjoy training we are probably involved in the wrong hobby/sport.

    P.S. Keep yalping!

  3. OK, let me ask a followup: How has your training/nutrition/hydration plan changed as a result of your experience, and what will you definitely do differently at the next one to "be careful" and keep yourself out of medical trouble?

    There's a lot of people that care enough to want to see you stay out of that medical tent!! :-)

  4. I think my training was good but could have used a bit more on the run. I'll be honest, my biggest battle is with my ego. I was a bit gung-ho to try and get between as close to a 5:30 bike split as I could. With the wind conditions and, quite frankly a steeper and longer climb on the bike than I had anticipated, I let myself down by ignoring the warning signs and pushing way too hard. I failed to be flexable.

    I also think I was missing the GEEKGRL. She was at home and I was up until midnight or 1 am the three nights before the race, I wasn't eating or hydrating regularly and I FORGOT my two bottles of perpetium at my friends house on race day. It was just a train wreck I'll admit.

  5. Loved your post and your sharing the interaction between you and your mom. I agree with Bigun. You and GG need to get her out to a race so that she can witness the sheer personal glory that comes with being a triathlete. It's a contagious feeling. Even when Bigun is in distress I always beam over his accomplishment. For me- that is what makes it worthwhile. That's why I can't miss a race. I missed one due to inclement weather. It won't happen again. Seeing someone you love push through the pain and arrive on the other side better than where they started - it's awesome. These races aren't really about who you are competeing against. They're about who you are inside. ramble ramble ramble...sorry.

  6. What a gift it would be to share your success with your mom at the finish. I'm sure she'd "get it" then! Great post.

    Yawp away! (Hmmmm, I'm getting ideas for a new team name here.)

  7. You have a pool open at 4 a.m? I wish...

  8. And now for a more appropriate comment...

    A huge part of Ironman (or any endurance event) is the drive to achieve personal greatness. That is found through accomplishing what others consider impossible.

    I never planned to be a marathoner. It just happened because a doctor wanted me to run 1.5 miles a couple times a week. That seemed pointless without a goal. That goal became 26.2 miles ONE time. That turned into four marathons.

    And I never planned on becoming a triathlete. Then, some 8th grade boys posed a challenge to me. Complete one. That became a sprint event that quickly turned into a registration for Louisville.

    I do this for myself, for my kids, and for the kids I mentor. I do it to show co-workers afraid to run a 10K that it can be done. I do it because I'm not really the type people think of when they think "Ironman." If I can do this, they can do so much more.

    Will I do another one? Who knows. There are others who need role models.

  9. Myles, great post. The note on the physicality of triathlon in a world where most of us now do not do physically demanding work I think is particularly on the mark.

    Here's a comment from a non-triathlete.

    I believe the life lessons we learn in sport make us better people, and people better able to handle what life gives us. There will be failures. There will be miscalculations and mistakes. From which you learn and move on. There will also be times when everything aligns to perfection.

    Racing helps to give purpose to training. Both racing and training give you not only an opportunity to challenge yourself mentally and physically, but they bring you into an even larger community of people who do the same. Racing expands that community. At the level of Ironman, that community is international in scope, wide ranging in terms of age and in choices of profession.

    It is sometimes easier for us to see the danger inherent in IronMan (training and competition) than it is to see the everyday dangers that surround us. The dangers we put out of our minds or minimize because to attend to them could paralyze us.

    As someone who almost lost her life doing all the right things crossing the street, and who did lose her job, a chunk of her mobility, and a chunk of her cognitive function, I credit my years spent involved in sport with providing the tools to help me move through it.

    And I cannot tell you how absolutely thrilled my orthopaedist was to hear that all these years later I have moved beyond "swimming" to "training".

  10. Great Post Bro!

    ..there are no guareentees..

    and that's what makes us stive for it!



  11. Thanks for the follow-up! Good thoughts!

    Every race is just training for the next one....