Among my close circle of friends, which consists of one other former varsity nordic skier, one category two cyclist, and one extremely snide non-endurance athlete, a constant source of amusement and pleasure is making fun of triathlons, and triathletes.
There are a lot of reasons that triathletes are the butt of our jokes. $5,000 bikes. Hundred dollar race entry fees. Weenie shoelaces. Level-four group rides with aero bars. Sleeveless jerseys. Triangular water bottles. The list goes on and on and on.
While my friends’ sport-centric jokes was originally centered on triathletes, their circle of consideration was broadened after I started getting neurotic about my training last summer–one might call it “No Obnoxiously Self Centered Athlete Left Behind.” Whenever I started to get too anal about recovery, fret over the duration of my threshold intervals, or generally take myself at all seriously, my friends–particularly the non-endurance athlete one–would instantly seize upon the opportunity to put me in my place, warning me about how they could easily see me becoming “weenie-triathlete” as I aged.
Now that I am no longer a member of a division one, varsity NCAA ski team, I may not immediately be at risk to become a “weenie-triathlete,” but I certainly see within myself the potential to become a “master blaster”–master blaster being defined as someone who takes their athletic pursuits extremely seriously and spends a lot of money on their equipment. Every time I get on my bicycle, I start thinking about what kind of ride I should be doing. Overdistance? Intervals? Hard riding? Recovery? Once I’m riding, I usually don’t worry too much about how fast I’m going or how high my heart rate is, but these are definitely things that are on my mind.
Recently, in response to a previous blog post, one of my old assistant coaches, Adam St. Pierre, offered to give me some coaching advice and put me on a plan to make me a huge baller of a biker or skier. Adam is highly qualified, with a masters in something-ology that has to do with training and exercise physiology (if you need a coach, you can write Adam at firstname.lastname@example.org), and initially, I was very intrigued. I’d love to upgrade to Cat. 2, or even to Cat. 1 and get a pro cycling contract, or get top 50 in the Birkie, or even qualify for the Olympics, so Adam’s offer was enticing.
After thinking about it a little bit, though, I realized that I wasn’t sure that I really wanted a coach. In fact, paying for a coach is actually one of the tri-attributes that my friends and I dislike.
Oh, dear. I’m about to get into Patrick Stinson-introspective territory. But bear with me.
The reason that I’m skeptical about having a professional coach is that I think that physiology and exercise and athletics is simple enough that for someone at my level (and for someone at the level of most middle-aged triathletes), I should be able to figure out my own training plan. One of the things that my former coach Marty Hall always said was that a large part of my college athletics experience was preparation for the rest of my life as an athlete. To me, what was implied in that statement was that by the time I graduated, I should know enough about the sport and about my body so that I didn’t need a coach any more. I mean, for goodness sakes, my roommate Nick Crawford IS a coach now, and he’s certainly not any smarter than me, so I should be able to do it myself. (Okay, Nick does know more about some things. Mainly rocks [he was a geology major].)
Furthermore, since the ski season finished, I’ve very much enjoyed the opportunity to go outside and use my mind and body however I want, without concern for the ultimate consequences of sprinting for a town line. Today I went rollerskiing and spent a large portion of the time contemplating slugs (major questions that arose: how many slugs are there in total on top of the 6-mile stretch of road that I skied out and back on today? how many slugs are there in maine, total? the world? has anyone ever done research into slug populations? are slugs carnivores or herbivores? where do slugs go when it gets hot outside? don’t they dry up? all of these questions could be easily answered by google and wikipedia, by the way, but I chose not to look them up so that I could ask them in earnest in this blog entry). Last week I rode 85 miles and rode just about as hard as I could up every single hill, and instead of using Cytomax or Gatorade, I just drank an entire liter of Coke.
In a nutshell, what I’m trying to say here is that there’s a time and place for sport to be serious, and for me, it seems like I should probably be concentrating more on finding a reporting job and doing other things, given that I just spent the last four years of my life taking skiing very seriously. And when it’s time for me to start taking things seriously again–whether that’s in 20 years when I’m trying to win the 45+ age category in the Putney Cyclocross race, or in five years when I’m trying to kick butt in the Birkie–my feeling is that I should be able to rely on my own accumulated knowledge and expertise to improve, rather than hiring a coach to figure it out for me or spending my money on equipment that will shave a quarter of a second off my 40-kilometer time trial. And, from this perspective, anyone who does spend money on a coach or on sweet equipment is overly serious, a big weenie, and unable to think for themselves.
Except, I’ve realized, that there’s a slight problem with this philosophy, and that’s that I’ve just spent the last 4 ski seasons shelling out $40,000 a year for a coach, for ski wax, and for equipment. Yes, I guess I also got a degree and learned some academic mumbo-jumbo as well, but that’s secondary–kind of like the triangular water bottle that you get when you spend $5,000 on your Cervelo P3. Which means that I’ve actually already had four years of being a weenie-triathlete (a cross-country ski version), just within the sheltered environment of a college where I can blend in because the majority of the rest of the people also happen to be weenies about about something, too. I’m not entirely sure about this, but I think that the large majority of weenie-triathletes are people who discover athletics in the middle of their lives, and who haven’t yet had the opportunity to take their athletic selves extremely seriously, build up a stockpile of sweet equipment, or learn enough about their own bodies and about the basics of physiology to coach themselves. I know my mom, for instance, never had the luxury of being able to compete in an endurance sport at a young age, and I don’t think I could begrudge her if she decided to take up triathloning and get a coach. Although I still sincerely hope that she doesn’t.
So I guess that I’ve carved out a (very small) place in my heart for triathletes, even if they are weenies about the sport. And, yes, it should be acknowledged that there are plenty of triathletes who approach the sport in an entirely healthy manner. However, this whole thought experiment still hasn’t gotten me very far in determining what my own athletic approach should be for the immediate future. Should I be training to be a cyclist? Skier? Weenie triathlete? Who knows where I’ll be or what I’ll be doing in six months, so it seems pointless to follow a long-term plan. I guess I’ll just keep rollerskiing and contemplating the slugs…