The real reason I race

Dear Izzy, Max, and Kate,

Sunday after church you handed me this, Izzy:

It wasn’t by accident. In your 8 years of life you’ve always delivered the voice of truth in our home. I had just finished complaining to Mommy about a recent run of “bad luck” that we’ve had at home in the last few months with appliances breaking, both of our vehicles breaking down, hospital bills, dental bills, and other unexpected emergencies. The truth is, I was whining and feeling sorry for myself.

You brought things into focus for your dad.

That emotion set off a discussion with Mommy about how most people go through life, constantly trying to get more, meanwhile oblivious to their temporary place in the grand scheme. Life is flying by. Their children are growing up. The whole thing is a short journey and we’re missing it. We distract ourselves by chasing. Hopeful that more will dull the challenges, and make the victories more meaningful.

Day by day. Minute by minute. Second by second. Life’s short.  And I’m worried that this months dental bill won’t allow us to eat out as often. That’s a serious 1st world problem.

Life is hard.

And it’s relative.

I talked myself in circles as Mommy listened patiently. Then as I often do, I found a way to talk about triathlon in the context of the conversation. I thought about why I do it. The real reason. And how I feel in the moment that reason is realized each time I race.

I race, because it takes everything else away. It’s a renewing of my mind. Somewhere mid-way through the run of any race, regardless of the distance, but especially in half-iron (and I presume Ironman) my mind goes blank. Completely. What I do for a living is gone. My previous successes in life are gone. My failures are gone. My position in life is irrelevant. My dreams, and hopes, and fears, are gone. The problems of the world around me are erased. I’ve tried thinking about my family when the real hurt comes, but even that image doesn’t last. I wish it helped. But nothing does. The same holds true for those racing in front, beside, and behind me. The pain takes over. Their challenges and fears are gone too. We’re all stuck in that moment, by our choosing and the only thing worse than that black hole of physical suffering would be stopping – and coming back to the real world.

In those painful closing miles I can go to a dark place where all that matters is getting to the finish line. It’s a black hole, where I want both the finish, and for it to last forever. I’ve cried at finish lines – not because I was happy it was over, but because it was over. And for a short time afterwards I’m just a man – like everyone else. Exhausted from the experience, but seldom more alive.

In the days following any event modern life begins to grip me again. Slowly at first. But eventually I forget that we’re all the same. Life resumes its heirarchies. The marketing messages burn deep. Obligations and promises. Expectations. And the monster of wanting more. So, I think about the black hole. I love all of you so much that it’s important for me to go back as often as I can. I come back renewed each time and more aware that there’s more to this journey than what’s on the surface. I’m grateful there’s always a next time for me. And I can escape back into the quiet cleansing darkness.
Je t’aime mon bebes,

– Daddy