I’ve finished the competitive triathlon adventure.
Everything I wanted from triathlon, everything and more than I could have dreamed of 5 years ago, has been fulfilled. Finish an ironman. Race an ironman. Earn a Kona slot. Race at 70.3 Worlds. Win an age group. Win a race. Race with friends. Race in front of friends and family. Train with the best. Adventure ride the bike all day long through the mountains. Open water swim for miles at a time. Race hard for 10 hours without pause. Earn the opportunity to take a ‘Pro card’ to race professionally. Put ‘sport’ as the #1 priority, daily, for several years. Ride and run until I cry. Swim, bike and run in the snow. Fly across the landscape, without tiring, for hours, on foot. Be unimaginably good at something. Get injured. Recover from it stronger than ever. Race all over North America. Race in 100F heat. Race in the shivering cold rain. Run the energy lab. Swim with stingrays and turtles. Write about the adventure. Share it with hundreds of friends.
What a journey. And I’ve finished it. That’s that.
I’m healthy, happy, top of the game, best I’ve ever been, and still getting faster. I could still get faster for years, a decade. Training is great fun. But racing has become less fun, and the whole lifestyle has become an 8/10. That’s pretty nice – 8 out of 10. But it used to be a 10/10, and I know that there are other pursuits that I will live at a 10/10 again.
There was no particular experience, no particular moment that caused me to say ‘that’s enough’. Admittedly, I’ve had the idea that September 2018's Ironman Wisconsin would be my last full-on-competitive race. But, over the last few months I’ve found that I’m not getting as much out of racing as I should be. It’s an experience of ‘diminishing returns’. The training and focus and competition has taught me so much and given so many new experiences and made me better in many ways. But the rate at which that personal growth is occurring has slowed, and in some areas has stagnated to zero. The rate of return has diminished. I’ve finished it all, and it is time to find and explore new avenues for growth and contribution.
I decided this 2 weeks ago. On the bike at 70.3 Wisconsin, I told myself that as long as I gave a ‘leave no doubt’ effort, that I could walk away from the sport feeling that I had done it right and finished the adventure. I sure did go all-out, not having the perfect race, but certainly I finished with absolutely zero doubt that I had given all I could on the day.
I was scared for about 1 day, after making this decision that I had finished elite triathlon training and racing. Then I felt adrift for more than a week. Elite triathlon is all-consuming. Every decision, every action throughout the day is in the context of triathlon – does this make me faster, will this make tomorrow’s and next week’s training and adaption more effective, will I be more durable and have stronger immune defenses because of this, will I be lighter and faster on race day… Will this decision, action or behavior help me be in the mental and physical condition to send it faster than ever on the day of this year’s ‘A-Race’? Again and again throughout the day, day after day.
Then you take that away. You take away the centerpiece that ties together every action and decision, the thing that gives purpose and direction to every act of the day. It’s great, because that constant filter of ‘does this make me better at triathlon’ can become annoying and tiresome. But it’s also terrifying, because gone is the primary driver to wake up at a certain time, eat this not that, live here not there, avoid those activities, engage in these activities. I do have a job, but I can conduct my business as an investment advisor from anywhere, largely on my own schedule. So the job provides very little structure. Finish triathlon, and a huge piece of the framework, identity and reason all fall away.
At first, I was scared to leave, to be finished and to say it out loud. Then I was terrified to be adrift. But that only lasted about a quarter of a day. I went from scared to terrified to feeling fully alive and flowing over with stoke. I was and am adrift in the most alive and exciting way. Opportunity abounds. I am again adrift, and I am able to steer the ship in any direction and at any pace that I choose. I started to write a list, and within 10 minutes I had dozens, a hundred ideas of ideas for things I’ve been wanting to do but that were incompatible with the demands of competitive triathlon. Ways I'd like to give of my time and skills, people I’d like to spend time with, 1-day adventures, weekend adventures, 6 month and year-long quests and experiments in living.
Holy cats it’s going to be fun. It’s already been a renaissance. I never fit fully into the typical ‘elite triathlete’ mold. I’ve always had more interests, hobbies, jobs than typical. During triathlon, I’ve built a business, read hundreds of books, flung arrows, gone fishing, earned a CFP designation, rode the spin bike, slept in my truck, climbed 14ers, traveled just to travel. I laugh, giggle and smile during training and races. I now have quite a bit of ‘endurance athlete’ in me, and it’s become part who I am, but moving on has, so far, been just about the easiest ‘major’ transition of my life. It's been a renaissance, a revolution of living.
Here are some of the things, incompatible with triathlon, that I’ve already incorporated in the last 10 days of the renaissance:
It’s not just training hours back that I’ve got back. I’ve got all the hours and thought and actions and restrictions associated with the mandate of being ready to train at a high level, day in and day out.
Thank you, deeply, to all of you that have followed along, shared, participated in the journey. We've finished the 'elite triathlon journey' - together, healthy, happy and at the top. In one of my first posts, I said that racing Ironman would be a celebration of life, health, fitness, opportunity. Check. Fulfilled. All alone, though, it wouldn't have been much of a party. Thank you for being the best part of the journey, the celebration, for making the party.
I’m not done with this blog, though. I hope you’re not done reading it. We're all still here, so the party is still on. I’d like to write, maybe I’ll write even more than I have historically. I’m going to be on all kinds of adventures, experiments, trips and quests. I’d like to share the experience, write trip reports, share lessons learned, continue to give out enthusiasm, motivation, knowledge, laughs. I hope to continue to bring variety and joy to your life. Future topics will probably be related to topics of the past – endurance, sport, learning, travel, the outdoors, food, assorted areas of enthusiasm, musings on human nature and on our life experience. Who knows? It’s a renaissance, a revolution, and I hope to share it with you.
Maybe I’ll write some mini-posts, or finish every post with something I’ve learned from triathlon. Not something like ‘are 21 or 23mm tires faster’, but something about life. I’ve had a lot of extreme experiences to fuel the thoughts. I’ve had a lot of time to myself with nothing to do but push on the pedals and to think. I don’t have much figured out, but I do have a few thoughts that could sometimes be insightful, or, at minimum, that could provide solid entertainment value.
I was asked recently what my spirit animal is. I said lion. That’s not true. My real spirit animal is a baby giraffe.
A lanky, stumbling baby giraffe. I’m that baby giraffe. I’m eyes wide open, moving pretty fast, taking it all in, trying to get familiar with the new environment. So much of what I do is a relatively new experience, a relatively unfamiliar domain. A baby giraffe comes into the new environment of Earth, and it can walk within 30 minutes. It can run within the day. It’s not pretty and it’s not polished, but that baby giraffe is up and it is running.
Often, I literally look like I could fall down while running. I’ve been running competitively for years, but I’m still a baby giraffe. Loping and stumbling along, baby-giraffe-style. It appears that any moment could be the one where I fall-down-go-boom. Yet I’m great at it. I’ve put up some incredible results.
The same goes for a lot of my pursuits over the years and still today - I’m not always the most graceful, I don’t always look the ‘polished master’. But I can move along and I can learn. I can look a baby giraffe, get the job done, and actually be great at what I do.
I often fear doing something new, where I think other people will be skillful old-hands. Everybody has that same fear - nobody likes to feel like a blundering novice. But there is no need to be afraid. You don’t need to be perfect in any pursuit. It’s okay to be the baby giraffe. Fun, joy, accomplishments and results can still be had. I’ve embraced it the baby giraffe, and so far it has been a heck of a ride.