Last Sunday was Waco’s 2nd Annual Tri-Waco. The event was a grueling test of physical and mental endurance. The Sprint Triathlon was around fifteen miles total whereas the Olympic distance was around double that. I competed in the Sprint race. It consisted of a 400 meter open water swim in the Brazos, a twelve mile bike ride down MLK Boulevard and a 3.5 mile run around the Brazos River through Cameron Park. Why would anyone partake in such an event? It’s hard to explain. Most triathlon athletes or “triathletes” do not get paid for competing; it costs around $90.00 to enter the Waco Tri. You also need to buy a swim suit, running shoes, a bike and devote months to training. The whole thing is a major resource drain for a reward that is basically meaningless in the real world. I ran in normal running shorts and a t-shirt and rented a mountain bike from Outdoor Waco.
So what would drive someone to willingly put their body through the gauntlet of sweaty, rash inducing agony that is a triathlon? What is the appeal? Besides the obvious benefits of physical fitness and the aesthetic boosts being fit provides there is another draw to these extreme feats of physical endurance.
It feels really good when you are done. Like, really good. You feel like complete crap but in a good way. It’s a mix of extreme pain and satisfaction. It’s the fitness freak’s masochism. It’s an exercise in absurdity. What do triathletes do after it’s all over?
They take a break, then start training for their next race or use that major post-race endorphin high to start working on another absurd goal. It is that post-race time frame which is so interesting. Do the months of training get thrown out the window in the form of a month long binge of Denny’s Bacon Sundaes and Doritos? Or does the athlete jump right back into training? It is a crucial moment for an athlete or anybody who has completed a difficult challenge in their lives. It’s the end of a journey. It is the same feeling one gets after quitting their job. It’s the feeling surrounding the days and weeks after graduating college. It is those precious hours after school. It’s the feeling of getting off the bus. It’s the end of a journey and the beginning of a new one.
As I crossed the finish line drenched in sweat and river grime, my heart pounding against the inside of my chest; I was entering that rare space in between journeys. I was entering that place where what happens right before and right after doesn’t matter. I was in that small window of time where there were no worries or fears of anything besides that moment. I was in a rare moment of bliss and clarity. That moment is what’s so great about triathlons.
It’s been a few days since the race and the bliss is fading. I’m coming off that endorphin high and thinking about life’s next absurd challenge. I’m considering JuJitsu, or ping pong, or just obsessively searching for a job for when my AmeriCorps position is over in November. I’ll get there, but for now I have fallen into a satisfying post journey period of slothful delight and it feels great.