You remember what I was saying before about being tired? Turns out sleep fixes that. Much to my surprise when I backed off training, caught up on sleep, and then ramped up again quickly I was able to have a great race. More importantly, I was able to enjoy a full weekend of racing, support my teammates and friends for their Olympic distance race on Saturday, and then set a PR on Sunday for my own race. To cap off the victory the event raised over a million dollars for Childrens Hospital Los Angeles. Personally, my friends, clients, and cohorts donated over $11,000 to my fundraising efforts making me the second highest fundraiser for the CHLA team and fifth highest overall fundraiser for the entire event!
I’ve been typing it for so long, I have to address a small point. There is no apostrophe in Childrens Hospital Los Angeles. There should be. But it has been their name for so long they can’t fix the typo because it’s on every single piece of collateral from signage to stationary, buildings to bags. It in no way diminishes the work they do but every time I type it, and I’ve typed it several hundred times now, it causes me to twitch.
I was a premature birth, the result of a type 1 diabetic mother. I spent my first few weeks in an incubator and when they brought me home from the hospital they took a photo of me with my body on a dinner plate and my head on a saucer. My life was saved by doctors and nurses and advances in medical science. You can draw a straight line from the scientific method as practiced in medicine to greater longevity, higher birth rates, and the success of a society. My rabid devotion to science as a process is because it saves lives. It saved mine. The other benefits of science are many – discovering the wondrous beauty of the universe’s properties, new discoveries of the natural world, and the expansion of mankind’s knowledge are all valid and extraordinary. But modern medicine saves lives. Prayer doesn’t. Religion doesn’t. Luddite thinking doesn’t. If there is one argument to promote science as the road towards our survival as a species it is the birth rate of developed countries that have adopted modern medicine and the scientific method. Science gives us the Way. Art gives us the Why.
There is another battle forming in my mind – racing vs. training. I am becoming a person who enjoys training much more than racing, but racing provides a goal, a purpose to train, and a benchmark for yearly progress. My age group, Men 30-34, is greatly comprised of men who have been lifelong athletes and are at their physical peak in the sport. For many, this decade is the apex of their fitness and each race is a chance to strut their stuff. It’s hyper-competitive and the numbers posted by my peers are freakishly fast. The next age group is almost worse, the Men 35-39 crowd have had the horrible realization that this is the apex of their athletic lives, they are staring down the long road of aging, they have one or two kids and a spouse they love (but really need to spend more time with, hon), and they’re also earning enough money to spend on speedy toys. For those of us who train because it is a way to personal bests races can be harrowing. If I don’t stand a chance at making the podium, why then do I train hard? Finishing is no longer in doubt; anything less than an Ironman is attainable at this point. Making a PR is deeply satisfying, but there has to be more than that.
I think that misanthropes like myself don’t like racing because it involves other people. Being forced to wake at 4am, deal with parking, jostling for rack position, moving through orange cones and lane markers like cattle – it’s all rather unpleasant. Moreover, if you don’t have a chip on your shoulder, there’s still a chip on your leg. Why do we all have to start at the same time? Here’s an idea for a half ironman distance race – open a course from 7am-7pm. Athletes have to complete the course within that time frame, but start whenever you want. Once you cross the timing mat your time begins and whenever you finish your time gets posted on the board. If you think you can finish in five hours, start before 2pm and enjoy yourself. If you need more time, budget it out. If you’re competing for a podium slot you’ll just have to race the clock and hope you did well enough. No more rabbits, no more hounds. Just athletes against themselves.
A triathlon that appeals only to loners and misanthropes may be the suckiest event ever. Can you imagine trying to market to us?
“Excuse me, sir, would you like to try our new compression socks?”
“Eff you. Why would I pay $75 for something I can get at CVS for $5?”
“But these have ‘Zoot’ on them.”
“Get away from me. No, wait, do they come in black?”
The Malibu event is the antithesis of the misanthrope’s triathlon. It’s held in Malibu, it attracts TV and movie stars to compete, and is a huge fundraiser for CHLA. Because it is in Los Angeles it also attracts all the Southern California triathletes and clubs who want to throw down against one another. It’s one of the few local races with prestige and it’s a wacky distance: the “classic” sprint is a length of a .5 mile swim, 18 mile bike, and 4 mile run. The swim is unpredictable and years have seen five foot walls of surf or higher. The bike is all false flats on Pacific Coast Highway, and the run is on concrete featuring dips for beach access. Oh, and halfway through the run the course snakes across sandy, rocky ground where a number of people have sprained or twisted ankles. Recently added is an Olympic distance race on Saturday with a much lower number of competitors. In contrast, Saturday’s race usually has six or seven hundred athletes while Sunday’s splashy event draws 2,600. Making things more interesting is that it’s often people’s first and only race of the season. Because it’s a fundraiser with a corporate challenge many movie studios recruit new people to race. This means that every leg of the event features human obstacles including flailing arms in the swim, human buoys as speed bumps, people falling over at the bike mount line, a lack of understanding of staying right while faster riders pass, random, unpredictable bike swerves, and runners who come to a complete stop to stretch a cramp in the middle of the path.
And yet, I love this race. I love it because it means something. This year I was honored to be a mentor on the CHLA team, assigned 20 people to email and encourage in their training and fundraising. Our group practices were ra-ra sessions in helping people learn as much of this weird sport as they could so they weren’t one of the aforementioned hazardous newbies. I watched and helped a woman who in her element is considered one of the finest pediatric doctors around, who has a strong command of people and medicine, overcome her fear of the ocean and learn to swim in open water. I saw a different side of her – eyes wide as saucers looking out into the dark ocean and unsure of her own ability to survive what was coming. I was there as she fought exhaustion to press on into the unknown and conquer that fear. She did this over and over again. She would gasp, “I don’t think I can make it” but I could recognize that was the fear talking, not the person inside. I would tell her that she had gone through medical school, reached heights in her career few could fathom, the ocean was not going to hurt her. On Sunday she raced her heart out and finished an open water swim and full triathlon in competition. She transformed into a triathlete.
I am privileged to work for some very famous and wealthy people, as well as working professionals. All of them, including friends and colleagues, contributed to my fundraising efforts. That created a sense of allegiance and accountability for me in racing. It helped to know that I wasn’t racing for myself. The day before we had lunch with fellow TNS athletes and CJ was fretting over being sick and intentionally taking a DNF for not doing the run. But I said something to her that had once been said to me – if you can’t make the race about yourself, do it for the other people out there. Find someone in a CHLA jersey having a hard time and say something encouraging to them. It doesn’t matter if you’re having a shitty race, don’t make it about you. Make it about helping someone else have a better experience.
Who am I? For a devout misanthrope suddenly I’m Happy McJoystein (the Irish/Jewish cousin of Debbie Downer, and Uncle to Fisty Punchaclown the up and coming MMA champion of Ringling Brothers.) Maybe I’m not really a misanthrope. Perhaps what I am is someone who wants to see the best in people and has been let down so many times I insulate myself against disappointment by being negative. I am a pessimist because I am a failed optimist. I am a misanthrope because I have seen people do amazing things and I expect that from everyone, all of the time and so few are willing to try.
I love training because it brings out the joy of the sport in me and others. We’re training because we like it. A race without meaning becomes an obligation to wake up too early and punish oneself for something as meaningless as a clock. But a race with meaning becomes the best of training and community building. We had the pleasure of hosting a friend and TNS athlete from San Diego and showing her the growing training community we’re building here. I’m really looking forward to seeing her again at the SOMA half ironman race in a month. I met many incredible people in doing this race, even though it’s not in my training plan, isn’t a distance I have been training for, and possibly could have been a bad experience if I performed poorly. (I’m training for a much longer distance event, so doing well in a sprint was never in the cards.) My wife and her mother came out to watch the race, and since it is my mother-in-law who works for CHLA she had a chance to see her coworkers come together outside the hospital and have a great time. My wife is extraordinarily busy with work, grad school, and now sitting on several high profile arts boards and yet she still shouted and rang cowbells for me and everyone in TNS and CHLA.
Everything came together beautifully. The regular Friday morning Tower 26 workouts had a spectacular effect on my swim – according to my watch I was done in 15 minutes – an extra minute to get from the beach to the timing mat at T1. All that time on the bike trainer has paid off – my bike split was just over 49 minutes, much faster than last year. And my run was a hair under 30 minutes – faster again (though I harbored a secret desire to slam 7:00 miles for a 28:00 run). My transition times were record lows for me, the one missing piece is being able to slip out of my bike shoes while in the last stretch and coming into the bike dismount to swing my leg over the saddle and rear bottles to glide into T2 standing on one pedal to the side of my own bike to hit the ground running. Still, a 2:40 T1 and a 1:20 T2 isn’t so bad! TNS athletes did great on both days, and the CHLA team did an incredible job.
I have one frustrating logistical gripe. My packet put me in Wave 10 and I was given a green cap. On race morning I saw Wave 10 was young women and green caps were the wrong age group (M35-39). My actual group was Wave 4, which by the time I got to the race start had just gone off. I went with other green caps. So my official, posted swim time is five minutes too long (race timing often uses your wave start time as an offset to the main race clock to determine swim time). I’m trying not to let this bother the living shit out of me.
It’s a good thing the clock is not the reason I race.