You Only Live Once...
I first heard this acronym from a few of my Teens that TRI team members and it really resonated with me. Not in a stupid sense but in a more practical, "why not" sense. In most everything I do, I seem to be that fish continually swimming upstream, rarely relinquishing to standards that others refer to as "because that's the way we do it". I like to challenge conventional wisdom and by doing so, I have discovered quite a few new opportunities both in my career and my life.
I grew up an athlete (soccer player) and it was always my dream to become a professional athlete someday. I didn't know what sport and frankly, it didn't matter. I wanted to know what it felt like to be labeled a "pro". I wasn't the best athlete growing up but put in the work and got the attention of coaches. In fact, I was recruited for a few soccer scholarships coming out of high school but didn't take them. I blame it on the lack of maturity and support I had in decision making but while I do think back about what could have been, I am more focused on what can be. The athletic path that has paved my life has allowed me to make a career out of what I love doing and I owe that to growing up in sport.
When I first got into triathlon (sophomore year in college), I failed miserably, mostly due to lack of direction and no formal knowledge of the sport. I swam in cycling shorts (if you can call it swimming!), rode my mountain bike with knobby tires but blazed the run (always my specialty due to my soccer background). I wasn't last but was pretty close. However, something clicked in me...the challenge to be better.
Since then, I have developed the knowledge of coaching, physiology, strength training, nutrition and life balance to be somewhat successful in the sport as an age-grouper. But wanting to be a pro has still remained in the back of my head the past 19 years since beginning the multisport journey. I did okay in my triathlon hobby, usually placing in the top 20% or so but it wasn't until I left the sport to pursue ultra-running and cycling and came back to triathlon where I realized that I had much more potential for short distances. Don't get me wrong, I love going long but I am not the quickest out there. I have noticed that my ability to endure a high amount of pain for a short amount of time (similar to soccer) is a strength and I used that last year by doing mostly sprint and Olympic distance triathlons.
My 2011 triathlon season was spectacular. I felt great at short course racing, did much more anaerobic training and allowed more time for family and coaching (all pluses in my book!). Interestingly, my results were much better than they were about 10 years ago and even though there has been some biological degradation due to age, I am much stronger and faster than I was in my youth in the sport of triathlon.
It showed this past weekend when I raced the Steamboat Triathlon. Similar to my mantra of not being a triathlete but rather a swimmer, cyclist and runner, I pushed my body and while I needed about 1-2 more days of a taper (I keep track of that quantitatively with my training stress), I had a very good race. Good as defined by shaving 6 minutes off of my Olympic triathlon distance PR from last year. I did something I never thought I could do, which was breaking the 2:15 barrier. After coming in at 2:11 on a somewhat hilly course at altitude, I re-evaluated my progression in the sport.
I am going to Ironkids Nationals with my Kids that TRI team on Labor Day weekend and there just happens to be a HyVee age-group race the next day. My son was excited because he says he wants to watch me race but I think he really wants to see the pro's race after me. Nonetheless, I will be racing but it will be a first for me. After much thought and counsel from my 11 year-old son, I have decided to race amateur elite. To do this, you must provide proof that you have done an Oly distance race this season that has been sub 2:15. There was some initial fear in the decision but as my son said quite eloquently, "Dad, why don't you challenge yourself by racing guys faster than you". Yes, son, you are so right and you have been listening to your dad/coach. Of course the 40-44 age-group is screaming fast already but this 40 year-old is going to follow his dream since he had since he was little. While I will not be a professional, racing amateur elite will provide me a glimpse (and the pain) of what it means to enter a different category of racing. The young guns will certainly force me to lay everything on the line in an attempt to earn the right to call myself an amateur elite, even if only for one race.
I know I will certainly be giving up a shot at the podium for my normal age-group but as the fish continually swimming upstream, I am all about the challenge that I have set out for myself. I can only hope others will follow some of their dreams that they have set out for themselves at some point in their lives. You are never too old...