Life is an endurance event. Training for triathlon is training for life.
I believe that. Not because I’m a cheerleader for triathlon. I believe that, because there are a lot of similarities between the suffering of life and the suffering of endurance athletics. I read a Buddhist commentary somewhere that says to live is to suffer and that ignorance of our true nature is the cause of all that suffering.
So let’s look at a few of the similarities between life and endurance sport:
- In life, as in triathlon, sometimes you get bored and just have to endure until the boredom subsides.
- Having friends makes life easier, but they can’t live your life for you and you have to make your own decisions. Racing with/against friends is fun, but you are judged on your own performance.
- The body begins to break down and become very painful later in life: The body begins to break down and become very painful at mile 18 of a marathon (especially as part of an Ironman).
Dealing With Boredom
Chrissie Wellington, the great triathlon champion, said that to teach yourself to endure boredom, you have to endure boredom. There’s a lot of truth in that. I’ve worked myself up to riding my bike for three hours in doors on the training stand. This has forced me to focus on my cycling form and my surroundings. As a result, I don’t get bored so much during mundane activities such as:
- sitting in a theater waiting for a movie to start
- waiting in line at the grocery store
- waiting to see the doctor
- traveling across the country
Racing With Friends
I’m a social person. I like being around friends. But I know that my friends can’t do everything for me. I have to be responsible for myself and make my own decisions. It’s the same with most endurance sports including triathlon. Even in a draft legal race where you can slipstream behind your opponents you are on your own. No one is there to make sure you succeed more than you. Every now and then, you might get a bit of assistance from another athlete if, for example, you get a flat tire. But the race strategy is entirely up to each athlete: no teamwork.
OK. OK. So there are relay teams in some triathlon events, but let’s just stick to the individuals for the sake of conversation.
Getting a Taste of Old Age
I’m not sure how old you have to be to be considered “old,” but a lot of what I hear from folks over 75 is similar to what I feel after a tough workout or race. In fact, I feel like my body is falling apart in the middle of most races. And at that point, it becomes a mental test of endurance. Each athlete has a decision to make when the struggle becomes very painful: QUIT or CONTINUE. I’m sure most people don’t feel they have that same choice about old age. And the pain of old age is continuous as where an athlete might recover from the pain of physical exertion .
But it seems to me that there is a high probability of infirmity and pain in my old age. I can take a spiritual approach to dealing with the pain and try to understand the true nature of pain and realize that pain is not separate from me, etc.
Or I can curse G-d, my parents, my children, my doctors, etc for letting me get so old.
Or I can load up on pain killers. That might be fun for a little while, but I don’t care for drugs and the degenerative effects they can have if they are abused which I might just do if that’s my only alternative.
If I’m lucky, maybe I can turn the pain of old age into a comedy routine. Groucho Marx used to say some funny things about getting old even though he was miserable.
I’m not sure which I will actually end up doing, but I’m going to plan for the spiritual approach which means I have to practice. And what better way to practice suffering than to suffer? This is just my own idea. I’m not sure if it has any merit for anyone else, but from my experience, this is what pushing limits is about. There have been times when I’ve pushed myself beyond established limits and I’ve realized a fundamental change in my life. In those instances my world becomes a bit bigger and things that I was afraid of tend to be less scary: including some suffering.
Not Too Much
Obviously, all this suffering nonsense can be overdone. If I push myself too hard, I can break. And I definitely don’t want that. But I have become less fearful of aches and pains because, through endurance sports, I know what I can accomplish if I just reach a bit farther than my body advises. And the next time I reach, it will likely be even farther.
OK. Let’s see how these words hold up in 25 years when I’m a bit older. If I’m still doing triathlon at that time, it probably means I decided on the drugs!