I did my first race this year on June 22. I am writing about this race specifically because it turned out to have special meaning for me in terms of my health and my approach to multi-sport racing. Except for my very first year in 1983 when, training for my first marathon in December, I happened to find time for two September triathlons along the way, this is the latest I have ever started my season. There are two reasons for that.
Ordinarily, my first race each year is Dan Honig’s New York Triathlon Club “March Madness” duathlon, usually held the last weekend of March in Central Park. Dan runs the race regardless of the weather and I usually do as well unless it’s raining, which it was this year. I simply don’t go out on the bike in the rain for safety reasons. Then, right at the beginning of April, I found I had three bulging discs in my neck, which needed to be operated on soon. The (very successful) cervical spinal fusion surgery occurred on April 24. From it and what has happened to me since then, I have learned several very important lessons.
First of all, I had stopped working out two weeks before the surgery and did not start again until two weeks after. That’s the longest period of time I have gone without working out since I first began running in October 1980. But with my surgeon’s permission, I got going again this year after the operation. The beginning was pretty slow even for me, but given what I figured is my good residual level of conditioning at age 77, having been working out year-round for 33 years, I got back up to speed fairly quickly. The lesson here is that working out year-round, at some level, is a very good idea. Second, I made sure to get in some hill work on the bike, because I knew from having done the triathlon on that course last year that the bike is a hilly course. And while I struggled on the steepest one, I did make it without dismounting. Since I only had seven weeks of pre-race training, again I think that that was due to my base level of conditioning.
But it’s really the mental side of things that’s the most important here, I think, as I stayed within myself. I am slow and have been getting slower as I have gotten older. But that’s okay. At this time of my life, finishing dead last, about 20 minutes behind the next person in front of me and about an hour-and-a-half behind the winner, I still felt just great. There is almost never a time limit in Dan Honig’s races (except in New York City where certain courses have to be cleared by certain times), I was able to go at my own pace, without worry. And as I crossed the finish line to some cheers from the folks who were still there after the conclusion of the awards ceremony, I confirmed my own answer to my long-time question – "Do you know why it’s better to finish last than sixth from last? Because when you’re last, everybody knows who you are: when you’re sixth from last, you’re completely anonymous."
As I have said for years, “explore your limits; recognize your limitations.” Our sport allows you to do that. Unless you are out to win (and winning is great, if you can do it) it’s not how fast you go; it’s crossing the finish line while having fun that counts. When I was younger, I explored my limits all the way up to the ironman distance. Now, doing triathlon and duathlon sprint races, I am exploring how long I can keep going. This race was my 239th overall. My next goal is 250. It was my 91st duathlon. Already being a member of the USA Triathlon Century Club, my next goal in duathlon is to make it to the new Duathlon Century Club. After yesterday’s race, I have nine to go. And after that? Well, if I’m still on the course in two years, I will have aged up to the 80-84 group. We’ll see about that one. Believe me, if I do make it, you will know about it.
This series of thoughts and recommendations for beginner and recreational triathletes and duathletes by Dr. Steve Jonas is drawn in part from his book, 101 Ideas and Insights for Triathletes and Duathletes (Monterey, CA: Healthy Learning/Coaches Choice, 2011), text used with permission. The book can be purchased here and is available at Amazon.com and Barnesandnoble.com.
Steve’s most recent multisport book is Duathlon Training and Racing for Ordinary Mortals®: Getting Started and Staying with It (Guilford, CT: Globe Pequot Press/FalconGuides, 2012), available at Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com. The text above is drawn in part from Chap. 1 of that book.