Thursday, December 03, 2009

Good Old Days

The other day, excited about my decision to plan a 2010 season, I sat down with a pen and paper ready to write.

Ready, waiting….nothing….

(enter sound of crickets)


Usually something jumps out at me. Something big, something worth the sacrifice. A driving force that pulls me through a season, keeps me honest and makes me want to hurt. The big race, the peak race, the one that you’ll give up sugar for two weeks, go to bed early, stop drinking wine. That race.

But right now, I cannot think of one.

Immediately I started looking around. Gathering dates, ideas, asking friends. There was a lot of chatter. Do an Ironman, do Vineman, Rev 3, 2011 long course worlds, go local, go far, do a series, try to qualify. The first thing that struck me is that we have a lot of options in our sport. The second thing that struck me was…nothing. None of those sound good to me.

I immediately cancelled out Ironman. No thanks. Been to Kona twice, did it well and feel no need to revisit that. I also immediately cancelled out 70.3s. I’ve done many of them and some are good. But unless I plan to try to qualify for Clearwater (answer: no) there is no need to pay over $275 to race on a course with up to 3000 other athletes. Think about that: 3000 athletes. Yikes. I also cancelled major travel. Travel is fine for one race or so. But it’s different now. Baggage fees, oversized fees, hotels, different time zones. Simply put, travel is very draining on the wallet and the body.

The problem is that I’ve been in the sport for over 10 years. In terms of triathlon, I am a dinosaur (if that's the case, then Jennifer is an artifact). Not only that but I’ve done things. Many things. Everything from sprint to Ironman, regional/national/world championships. Chances are I’ve been there, I’ve done it. Next.

I thought some more about it and what I realized is that I miss the good old days. The little races with grassroots organization that were just about the race. Not about the logo, not about the finisher’s gear, not about the tattoo, not about changing the swim venue because it’s windy, not about one thousand signs marking the course. Not about making it easy. It was truly an endurance event with all of the good, bad and ugly, uncensored. Because the uncensored parts were the best parts. Overcoming them is what made racing….racing.

But triathlon has gotten watered down. It’s a kinder, gentler sport now. Maybe it’s because our society is so litigious. Maybe it’s because it’s a sport that is very accessible yet it’s challenging. It’s one thing to sign up for a marathon but imagine the glory of doing an Ironman. It’s like a frontier of challenge that awaits the ordinary man proving he can conquer just about anything.

Except weather. But wait, yes he can. He can just change the course because the water is too choppy.

Not just that but it’s become diluted. Years ago, everyone did nationals. It was the race, the only big race that you aspired to. There were regional championships and special qualifiers. And only the best showed up. Nobody focused on half Ironmans. Everyone did Olympic distance. The point was to race often and race well. Long course wasn’t where it’s at. That said, you saw the same people year after year because they stayed healthy enough to race. Nowadays, I see athletes disappearing after two years. Too much long course, too much injury or maybe that is just how it seems.

Back then, Kona wasn’t even in the vocabulary of most people. Remember how you used to get to Kona years ago? Around here, you had to win Mrs. T’s (which is now the Chicago Triathlon). That’s right, you had to win an Olympic distance race that took place SIX WEEKS before the big event! Looking back on it, it was one of those what were they thinking situations. But sure enough I know a girl who indeed won Mrs. T’s, took the slot to Kona and then learned that 6 weeks of Ironman training really was no way to prepare for the day.

When racing was really racing, that is what I miss. When I first started racing I hit the local scene in the Great Lakes area. The competition was tough because they all stayed around here to compete. The national scene was not as big as it is today. Everyone did the same races. There was Galena, Tri Shark, Three Rivers, Elkhart Lake, Muncie, Ironhorse, Danskin, Seahorse. Your season ended in September because that’s when the races ended in the midwest. Nobody traveled. And then you would focus on running. It made sense and helped keep you healthy.

I keep thinking back to some of my favorites.

(cue sound of bad Barbra Streisand: Memories...light the corner of my time trial bike...)

Enter the Lake Macatawa Triathlon held in Holland, Michigan. I remember I signed up race morning and transition area was a parking lot. You threw your bike into a parking space. And then you headed to the lake which was actually the color of rust. There were dead fish floating along the shore and you could walk about 150 yards out to the first bouy. Of course I did! I could barely swim back then. Still can’t. No one complained. No one wrote a letter to the race director. No one yapped about it on an online forum. The swim was not cancelled. I ended up placing 4th overall winning $200 and a pair of wooden shoes. The overall winner? Laura Sopheia at a young 46 years old. She’s still smoking fast at age 55 today.

Back when race maps would say things like “wicked downhill” as a warning to watch your ass. Or when water quality so questionable that you might need a prescription to get rid of the crazy scratch you got from swimming through a pond full of goose crap for 1.5K (true, happened to Chris in Ohio). Or when there were no volunteers telling you where you go. You had to figure out by yourself. And if you got lost, you didn’t blame the race director or some volunteer. You just turned around and found your way back, drove home and raced again the following weekend.

Back then racing was raw. It was real. It was not catered, watered down or safe. It was at times just plain crazy. There was no bigger picture. No bragging rights for crossing a line with a line with a noisy hubbub. You crossed the line. You finished the race. You stuck around to eat bananas and pick up your award. If you did TriShark you got a wooden shark. If you did Pigman you got a golden pig. Sometimes you just got the race experience. And that was enough.

Timing chips? Maybe it was a guy named Chip holding a stop watch who would actually pull that detachable tag off your race number and feed it on to a string that marked your place. Your placement was in the hands of a piece of twine and a tiny tag covered in your own sweat. Could you imagine!? Maybe you got splits. Maybe not. You never cared any way. You just raced.

At some point, though, it turned. Things always do. You got a little too caught up in competition. Damn Type A personality. Must achieve must achieve must achieve. Got to be bigger, better. All of a sudden you found yourself doing 6 half Ironmans in one year that required extensive traveling. It became less fun. It was less about pure racing and more about gathering – money, awards, experience. You lost the point of it all.

And the point is – you love to race because it feels good and it’s fun.

The other day Chris was saying that he has forgotten how to race. This is so true of athletes that spend a few years focusing on long course triathlons. Unless you are the top of the top, you cannot race an Ironman or even a half Ironman. You survive. Even the top age groupers survive, they just survive faster than everyone else. You lose the ability to go head to head, to get a fire under your ass and haul ass to the finish line. Top age groupers can do it at the half distance but even then it’s so much about pacing and nutrition. Our sport has become so saturated with long course that it’s becoming more about completing than competing.

I think all of this means I am getting old. And a little ornery at times. But mostly I am cupcakes, sunshine and lemonade. Like all girls. Anyways, Jennifer and I often joke about how we are like to two old Muppets sitting in the balcony scoffing at the scene below. It's not that the scene is bad, it's just that we remember it from a different time. And maybe all memories are sweeter when you are younger and more innocent.

In my quest to put together a race schedule, I started looking around at the local scene. I want to race often and race hard. I have been all over the country racing the big races against the big names. I want to be home. I just want to race my race without worrying about putting together my bike, adjusting to a time zone, attending mandatory pre-athlete meetings and just want to start the race when the race director shouts the two most exciting letters in our language...


I don’t know about you but I just got the urge to race my dog to the top of the stairs.


Terri said...

Who won?

E.L.F. said...

I'm going to have to review the finish line video.

Joy said...

I'm with you on this, Liz. Sounds like a plan. You know, in my second race back in 1996 (!) we DID get splits-- they were mailed to us like 4 months later, and I remember being so frustrated that they'd gotten my 4 mile run time wrong by 10 minutes!

Molly said...

This makes me even happier with my plan of doing mostly local, small-name races next year. :-)

cheryl said...

you should do some xterra's! They are fun!

Nicole said...

Statler and Waldorf would be proud!

Keith said...

Throughout your whole post, I kept hearing you say "I should be wanting to race, I really should." But you don't. Not really.

You either need to rest more, or do something different for a while. You don't have the fire in the belly that you need to race well. No suggestions, though, that's for the people that know you.

Andrea said...

Great post! THANK YOU!!!

Amber Dawn said...

Ultra running is still raw- no finish hoorah (lucky if there is anyone even there), and getting lost is a part of the race.
BUT..there is no swim or bike.
Maybe Xterra?

Mama Simmons said...

I Remember those days too... Back when it was like, 'I wonder if I can do this??' That said, I'm not quite over Kona yet. ;)

Jennifer Harrison said...

Oh this rings SO very true! We are like the old muppets....peering down on everyone and everything - turning our noses up at all of it while dipping our dentures in Fixodent.

I need some fun ones in 2010 too and I AGREE 100% with you! Let's start our own Chicagoland race series, FE!

Cy said...

Best of luck putting together your race calendar. When I had difficulty coming up with any tri goals/key races for 2010, I decided a 100mile mtn bike ride at 10,000 feet would be the best alternative-Careful ;-)

lisa said...

Great post! After 17 years in this sport, it is a different experience for sure...(although unlike your achievements, i still have a few unattained goals to check off ;)

But you're still going to SLB camp---that'll be something a little bit different, eh? Looking forward to it with a fair amount of trepidation...

Lindsay said...

Welcome to my world! I am prehistoric, and was winner of many wooden sharks over the years!
I stayed local raced a bunch this year, had fun, and still had energy at the end of the season!

H said...

Liz, great post. Could not be happier to have you as a new coach to work with. Being only a couple years into triathlon, I can still relate to your sentiments when it comes to other sports...playing hoops on the playground, outside, til the ice on the court was too much to deal with (or we fell and hit our heads one too many times) was just the way things were. Now when it comes to playing basketball or most any other sport, it's not the sport that has changed as much as my peers...too much need to be indoors, have a certain type of hoop shoes (and don't forget to only wear them indoors), technical fabric undershirts, ankle braces, headbands, etc etc. You wanting to just race and have fun locally is a lot like just wanting to grab a basketball and wanting to go play at the nearest outdoor court. No scoreboard, league or anything else needed, you're just playing for the joy of playing.

Definitely bookmarking the blog...makes me want to get back to blogging myself. Keep it up and see you for the next preseason session. -Henry

Brent said...

Awesome post as always. My suggestion would be to find races you haven't done. I know, hard or impossible given your longevity in the sport. But, I am sure there are races out there you haven't done. Some maybe even not that far away from suburban Chicago. Also, think about doing something different but still in the endurance realm. What about a 50 mile trail race? How about a 200 mile bike race?
I "competed" in the Metamora 4 x 50 mile bike race this past summer and it is about as grassroots as you can get. If you miss the old days when you had no chip and just showed up and competed this is the race for you. I forgot my race number and didn't have it for the first 50 miles; no big deal and no disqualifcation either. Probably only about 150 riders total(draft legal too) and it is practically in your backyard---Metamora, IL.
If you are still wanting to do triathlons...and I assume you are, how about the Triple T race(s) in Ohio. I plan on going this year. If you haven't done it yet(you probably have), it is four races from super short sprint on Friday, TWO olympic races on Saturday followed by a half ironman on Sunday; all for only 200 bucks. That is 50 bucks a race Liz and you could also do it as a team if you can find someone crazy enough to join you. In addition, I think your teammate must stay by your side for 2 of the races which would make negotiating the race more of a challenge.
Although it is in Florida and would involve travel, have you ever done the Great Floridian triathlon? I went down there this year and it is the antithesis of the WTC races with their 2000 plus competitors trying hard to not run into each other in the swim/bike portions of the race. GF only had 300 competitors in the full ironman distance race and the winner was over an hour ahead of 2nd place! The bike course was loaded with hills, particularly the last 15 miles, and the winner said he wished the WTC folks would have the guts to design such difficult courses to make finishing their races as worthwhile an accomplishment as he felt after the GF. By the way, GF had an approximate 25% dropout rate so it is not about making the race easy, but hard. If you aren't looking to PR, but don't mind challenging yourself to finish an ironman distance race, this is the one for you. Look up some of the race reviews and see how you might still be challenged in the sport. Good luck and keep us posted on your race plans.

Haley Cooper said...

I was going to suggest the Triple T, but Brent beat me to it. That's been on my radar for a while - you and Chris should team up and clean up. There are also some ultra running races that may not be so much about pure racing, but permit you access to some of the country's most amazing spaces in a unique context. The best part? No bike fees on the plane. Just a carry on with some running shoes and shorts - liberation!

D said...

Whoa... that's a long comment up there. I really just came to say that blogger need a "like" button like facebook.
You get the like button.

Marit Chrislock-Lauterbach said...




And sweet - like you. :)


Have fun Elizabeth!


Liz--although we are at completely different stages in our tri lives, I totally understand your post. That's how I felt in 2009. I had fun racing 5 mostly local races. My accomplishments are very humble unlike you and Jen, but after 20+ years in the sport, I realize I do this for FUN! After my disapointment at IMKY 2008, I reassesed and decided to go back to what I LIKED!

Great post as usual. Hope you figure out what you want to do. And if you and Jen start your own series, sign me up for the 55-59 age group!

Happy Holidays!

TriEVIElon said...

I agree! I was just thinking during my last long run that everything is so high tech these days and so irritating.

I have the footpod that is bigger than my foot; the HR monitor that digs a giant hole in my skin, the 4.5 pounds of water around my waste and the 1.2 pounds of Hammergel in a flask. JESUS!

What happened to strapping shoes on and just getting your ass out on the trail? I remember running 18 miles with a tiny squeeze bottle of water and little else and I ran those mile pretty darn fast for a new runner.

I am in a running race series in Annapolis that is very much like you describe your local races. Once I won a box of Capri Sun for coming in first in my age group. Another time, I won Sprite. For a couple of those races, we don't even get a number, just a card to record our own time. LOVE those races.

The Eagleman entry fee is the size a car payment this year so I am skipping it. I am going to do a long course race but one that's cheaper and then I think next year re-evaluate. There are plenty of good, small, fast races here. I think I'd rather stick to those.

YAY you! I applaud getting back to the grassroots and the neighborhood races. They need more folks like us - people who truly appreciate the simplicity of it all.

Alicia Parr said...

Just did a long trail run w/ a tri friend who has recently turned to ultra running. It's been said by another commenter, but it has the feel that tri's used to have, although I haven't been doing them as long as you. Fortunatey, there are shorter trail runs, because those ultra's are ultra-LONG and I don't know that I'd be up for that.

Mer! said...

Great post!! I haven't been in the sport as long as you have but I am always amazed at the newbies whose first words out of their mouth is "Ironman"...and i'm like "seriously? your first year??" just seems odd...

What has me frustrated is the cost of local, San Diego's my first year back after racing after having my son and the San Diego Int'l Tri is...$100.00 for something LESS than an olympic distance. Blows my mind..and ALL the sprints around here are $85.00, not sure if it's the California economy and people looking to make money or just plain greed from the companies that sponsor these races....but it makes me grumpy! So, in return, I prefer to race less and just longer distances, I feel like I get more for my money in some weird, sadistic way =0

Hope you find some rockin' races for're super talented and you deserve to find a race(s) that give you something to "go for!!"

Audrey said...

..that's what happens when you get "old" start reminiscing about the "good old days!"

There will always be whiners, complainers and the like. All the gadgetry too because there is money to be made! But we do have a choice on what we spend our money on.

I like to think of all of the people that have taken to this sport - all of the people that have embraced multisport as a lifestyle; a new way of fitness. Without the opportunity to race against others or themselves..where would they be? Many of them are inspired by those athletes paving the way before them. Some stay local, some aspire to loftier goals. If it meets the needs and desire of the fire within - it's all good.