“We are what we repeatedly do.” – Aristotle
When I started to analyze the racing events I was doing, I uncovered some hidden costs that were never disclosed in the entry fees. A marathon/ultramarathon/ironman can range anywhere from $100-$700 but quickly increase if you need to travel, pay airfare and stay in a hotel. A monumental race like Race Across America is around $3,000 for the entry fee, but my out-of-pocket costs were closer to $20,000. In the beginning, the experiences were well worth it. I usually made some new friends, learned a little something about myself and added another finisher’s medal to my collection. But at some point, I started to realize the price of these events was more than just money. There were hidden fees for which I never wrote a check but still had to pay – things like time, energy, missing other family activities. When I began to add up everything it hit me: the price was more than I wanted to spend.
Everyone’s experience and journey is different and some might classify me as a quitter. But how many marathons do I have to run to prove I can run 26.2 miles without stopping? If running 50 marathons doesn’t prove the point, then I don’t think running 51 or even 100 would do the trick either. How about if I became an Ironman, would that do it? Apparently not, because I’ve done that too but still felt I had something left to prove. So I committed myself to something truly epic and entered the Western States 100 mile run. What if I ran 100 miles in less than 24 hours, surely that would be enough? Nope. Every time I crossed a finish line, the satisfaction would stick around for only a few days before I was out trying to find my next event. I kept having to upstage the previous race. How about riding a bicycle 200 miles nonstop? 508 miles? 3,000 miles? I did that too and was still left trying to satisfy the hunger.
I think pedaling a bicycle 3,000 miles in Race Across America finally gave me the time to come to terms with myself. I proved to myself that we can push our bodies and our minds to accomplish more than we imagine. We can chase and achieve our dreams. Now I feel I don’t need to keep proving it over and over. But for years, having to prove it over and over was part of the lure. After the race was over, the euphoria would fade and I was left feeling I needed to do it again. I needed to start training for my next event. I still had to convince myself I had what it takes. Just getting to the starting line of something like Race Across America required a focus so intense and selfish that most other areas of my life had to suffer. Ironmans/ultras/marathons all require a similar level of intense focus and training. Saying “Yes” to one thing meant saying “No” to something else and when I realized what I was missing and saying “No” to, the true cost of all that racing and training proved too much.
I love a good race and battling it out to the finish line. And I believe training and racing instills positive traits that carry over to other aspects of a successful life. But life must stay balanced. I don’t want to be the dad missing my son’s events because I’m married to work or constantly training for my next race. In the midst of Ironman training last year, I made it a point to schedule Saturdays around Dylan’s soccer games. I squeezed in rides before or after but was always there for the whole game. Same with baseball games and practice. When I had to ask myself which one to choose or which one took priority, I knew something was wrong. Why is missing my son’s soccer game to go for a bike ride even an option I’m considering?
I could justify it and say all that training gave me a healthier body. I absolutely need to exercise both the mind and body. For me, running is therapeutic. Yet, where is the point of diminishing returns? Exercising 45-60 minutes a day is going to give me a healthy body. Anything more is overdoing it. Using the minimum effective approach, if I need to boil water and water boils at 212 degrees, what do I gain by boiling water at 300 degrees? I’m wasting energy. And that’s what it came down to for me, I was wasting my time and energy training for so many long hours. The water already boiled. I already proved I could do it. I need about 45-60 minutes a day of exercise a day to maintain some level of health and fitness. The danger for me is when I try to convince myself the more the better. In this case, more is not necessarily better. Most often I just want to spend a few free minutes running in the mountains under the pines clearing my thoughts instead of worrying about who I’m chasing and who’s chasing me.
I’m a creature of habit and routine and training can become an addiction. I’ve never used or been addicted to alcohol, nicotine or drugs (although Nicole and Dylan will say I’m addicted to Starbucks and Chipotle). But when running got to the point that I couldn’t say no to missing a training run or not doing a race, then I realized I had my own addiction problem. Sure, it might be a healthy addiction, but I’m not sure any addiction is all that healthy. Unable to say “No”, doing the same races over and over, year after year, made me feel like a slave. Races like Ironman are not merely races, they are lifestyles. Be prepared to sacrifice. Every time I signed up for a big race, it was not only me making a sacrifice, it was the entire family. They’re noble events and I’m glad I did them. Now we can move on. I don’t want it to be the thing that consumes some of the best years of our life. Now I’ll have the freedom to channel and focus some of that time and energy to invest in someone and something else.
For me, that investment is already paying off. Lately, hitting a couple baskets of tennis balls after work with Dylan is more rewarding than adding another finishing time to the list. Being at one of his events and watching him in his element is proving more rewarding than I could have ever imagined. At one of his recent swim meets while Nicole and I were in the stands and watching, more butterflies bounced around in my stomach as Dylan stepped up to his starting block than I’ve ever had at the start of an Ironman. We were so nervous for him. We watched and cheered, squeezed each others’ hands as he swam from one end to the other. Racing, he appears so relaxed. I’m up on my tip toes and my insides are in knots. We are hoping, no matter what, he’s going to finish happy and with a positive attitude and climb out of that pool with a smile dripping off his face. And that’s where I am these days. A 4 mile run together beats an 8 mile run alone. Playing a little tennis together after work and chasing down his shots is pure joy. Riding our bikes to the lake and watching Dylan fish and untangling his line brings more happiness than if were out by myself and training for my own event.
When I was younger, I would imagine crossing the finish line with my family in the stands as they proudly cheer me on. At some point the dream changed. Now I want to be the one cheering them on as they cross their own finish lines. Give it some time and maybe I’ll need to toe the start line again. I still love hitting a trail for a run, but if you don’t see me racing/pacing at some of the events, hopefully you’ll understand why.