Since posting the first part on this topic, I received a lot of comments.
Some, because they came from people I care deeply about, I feel I must address before going ahead with the discussion.
(OK, the comments I’m going to address came from my wife, but she is right, as usual.)
So imagine again, if you will, the third scene from Part 1, but in a slightly less gory way:
At an ironman distance triathlon, a whole bunch of participants push so hard that for the most part they collapse upon reaching the finish line. Only a few, having not quite given it their all, still manage to remain functional, walking around and re-hydrating, speeding up their recovery through some (very light) stretching and eating.
Then catastrophe hits: A tsunami is announced, and everyone must evacuate immediately!
But guess what? It’s everyone for himself or herself! Only those who are still functional can escape and survive. Those who collapsed at the end, those who abused their bodies too much during the race, are swept away by the wave, never to be found again.
Only those who survive can show up the next day to claim their spots during the roll-down for the World Championship…
Still perhaps not the most realistic scenario, but now we’re getting to the point I’m trying to make.
Racing to the point of collapse, of total exertion, of no longer having the resources to continue acting for yourself after the finish, is a bad idea. For many reasons.
First, it causes serious damage to your body. This is what some are really talking about when they point out that running marathons or doing triathlon causes the equivalent of 20 years of physiological damage. It is not the training regularly, which we all pretty much agree is in fact good for your health, that is causing the damage: it is the abuse of racing “all out”. (And sometimes of training too hard all the time.)
And even though a fit runner or triathlete will recover, some of the effects of the racing linger. Accumulate over time. So your body ages by 20 years in a few hours, then over days it becomes younger again, but never by quite the same amount. That is why elite racers never last very long in those sports, with a few exceptions. Going all out takes its toll on your body.
Second, it means you need a lot more time to recover after a race. Some might say that is fair, since after all you performed a “great feat”, obtained a personal best, etc. Something to be proud of, to be sure. But that recovery time means you cannot go about your normal activities for a while. It means you lack fitness, in the biological sense.
And during that time your body is more prone to infections. Again, while we all pretty much agree that regular exercise helps the immune system, being exhausted in fact depresses immune functions. For a while. It is commonly known among triathletes that you are most likely to get sick right after your “A” races, when you’ve pushed the hardest of the season.
And those are just the two main, physiological reasons. Racing all out, it could also be argued, frequently makes jerks out of people. But that is perhaps a different topic, best left for some other post…
So what is the alternative?
It is what I call racing like a Defender.
A Defender knows that more may be demanded of him (or her) later, so training and racing are intense but never all out, never to exhaustion.
Just like their namesakes of Antiquity and Medieval times, Defenders aims to protect what is precious to them. In the past it would have been the lives of their families; in racing, it is their own health. So the pretend fighting that racing in a way represents is done in such a way as to promote fitness, not take it away.
Conversely, someone who goes all out all the time can be thought of as an Aggressor, or an Invader. These are often fanatical in their drive to win, to conquer. And fanaticism is pretty much the opposite of having a well-balanced view of the world. It is not a peaceful, healthy way of living.
In the final analysis, and this is my racing philosophy, when you cross that finish line you can consider that you have beaten all of those who collapsed, needed medical attention, or are generally not able to function normally after a race. If you can still fight, figuratively speaking, when you are done, then you have prevailed over those who cannot (still figuratively; I do not condone any kind of violence, during or after competitions).
Even if the official rankings don’t reflect this philosophy, you can take pride in your achievement.
Think like a Defender, and consider what you could still have done after the race. Consider how you could still have outrun the tsunami (with proper warning, of course).
Racing is not about how well you rank compared to others. It is a motivational device, to keep you focused.
What really matters is your health.
Photos by Pixabay.