Day 21 – The Road to Kona

153 Days until IRONMAN 70.3 Chattanooga

Why Bother?

Many of us age-group triathletes have a goal of qualifying for the IRONMAN World Championship in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii. But why? There is no prize money involved. The entry fees for qualifying races are slowly approaching $1000. The cost to be competitive is almost above poverty level. And, to much of the world, there seems to be no tangible reason to put one’s self through such torture of training and racing.

Breakfast With Bob, Panchoman and Daniela Ryf at the 2019 IRONMAN World Championship

Yet all over the world people risk their jobs, relationships and financial resources to race in the biggest IRONMAN of them all. Why?

I know why. I am one of those age-groupers who is going to qualify to race on the big island of Hawaii. Not this year. Maybe not next year. But soon. And in the world of endurance sports soon is not measured in days or weeks: try years and decades.

Look Deeper

Mdot Tattoo over red pumps
Tattoos are a common way for athletes to show off their accomplishments

I really didn’t intend to start writing about why people want to qualify for the Kona race. I’m thinking more about the joy of a triathlon challenge whether it is called IRONMAN or HITS or Challenge. Those of us who truly love triathlon and have felt its life changing effect are tapping into something deeper than a finish line photo or a tattoo on the ankle. This sport is at the same time fun and scary. It’s a balance of risk and reward. It’s tough and it’s satisfying.

Our biological nature, on average, is still very much the same as it was thousands of years ago. Intelligence and emotion have tempered the biological instincts that are the keystones to Darwin’s theories. However, survival of the fittest means something very different in the modern human population. I seriously doubt I would have survived childhood had I lived 400 years ago.

Family Tree

Some scientists estimate that most humans today work longer and harder hours than our hunter/gatherer ancestors. That’s hard to imagine, but I suppose it could be true. They didn’t have project deadlines and parent/teacher meetings and soccer games and birthday parties and board meetings. Maybe they didn’t work much, but they had to fight to survive.

The vast majority of modern humans certainly don’t have to fight to survive in the same way. The rising global population is evidence of that. The fact that I can sit on my butt and type this blog post at my leisure without worry of being eaten is evidence of that. Yet, regardless of how civilized we act, we still have those basic instincts deep inside of us.

Easy Street

We have it easy. The grocery store provides food (for a cost). Housing may not be guaranteed but it is widely available. People don’t go around killing, raping and pillaging like they used to. In my experience, people are generally kind. Assholes do exist, but they are usually just an annoyance more than anything.

But if modern life is so easy in a Darwinian sense, then why have I heard so much on the news about unhappiness and stress and heart disease? I believe that part of the answer lies in our biological nature that yearns for the hunt. There is a part of us that, for hundreds of thousands of years, had to be motivated to hunt and gather. To think that in the blink of an evolutionary eye those desires have disappeared is hard to believe. Without that motivation, life on this planet would probably be limited to slime mold and brachiopods.

Not really. I just wanted to use the word brachiopod.

But think about it. The individuals in a species that were more motivated to seek out food and reproductive opportunities were more likely to survive and pass on their genetics. It sounds crude and makes you want to cling to the religious dogma of creationist ideas, but all evidence supports the early uncivilized nature of human existence. Thank God for intelligence and emotional influences.

Better Triathletes

These instincts motivate us to be better triathletes, because we are intelligent and we are emotional. We don’t want to kill anyone for the sake of taking their food, but we do want to express that ancient motivation that drove us to survive. So many of us age-groupers grew up believing in society’s vision of a life of leisure and as we got older, we couldn’t reconcile that societal belief with our inner instincts. That is one small reason why we compete.

If you want scientific evidence for my statements, you’ll have to look for it yourself and it may not support my claims. But after 30 years of studying genetics, it’s going to take a lot of evidence to turn this ship around.