Defenders – Part 2

Ironman, Health, Fitness, Defender, Racing

Racing is a little like war. The swim part of an Ironman is definitely like Naval Battle…

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.

Defender, Health, Fitness, Racing

Could you still run away if your life depended on it?

Photos by Pixabay.

Defenders – Part 1

Battle, Defenders, Antiquity

Are you ready to fight?

Imagine the scene:

The time is Antiquity (think Ancient Rome or Greece), or perhaps the medieval Dark Ages. The place is a fortified City-State.

One sunny afternoon, an invading army shows up and attacks the city. The king of the city-state calls upon his soldiers to man the fortifications and defend the inhabitants against a fate possibly worse than death…

“But, Sire,” the King’s General replies, “our soldiers had a big training exercise this morning, and they are too tired to fight now. This battle was not scheduled, so I’m afraid we must ask for a postponement, or surrender the city.”

Somehow, I don’t think that answer would go down well with the King…

(It stands to reason that if your job is to defend a city, or uphold the law, or put out fires, you must be in good shape. You must strive for fitness. But you must also always be ready to do what must be done; training so hard that you are then incapacitated for a time is not a good strategy.)

Ok, here’s another scene, for your continuing imagination:

Similar time, similar situation, but now the invading army has been spotted ahead of time, and the King decides to dispatch his troops to a specific location where they will have a tactical advantage over the advancing enemy.

“Grab your weapons and make haste, men!” yells the King. The General and his troops leave in earnest, running as fast as they can to reach the location that will give them the desired advantage.

But they run so fast that, when they get there, they are so tired that they all collapse in a heap, and get massacred by the invaders.

(It is a little known, but historical fact, that armies in antiquity ran to battle, and had to arrive ready and capable to fight. Especially if you are trying to gain an advantage in the field, there is no point in exhausting yourself before the battle even begins. You must be fit enough to get there and fight; you must pace yourself and make sure you have the strength to defend your home and family…)

Why am I telling you to imagine these scenes?

Because I want to talk about Weekend Warriors, and a particular philosophy of racing.

But before I do, imagine a third (and final, for now) scene, taking place much closer to us in time:

Some guy is racing in an Ironman triathlon and is doing fairly; there are lots of folks ahead of him, but many more behind. He is not going as fast as he could, however; at any rate, he is not racing so hard as to get to the finish line completely exhausted.

As he finishes, all around him other finishers also arrive; most collapse from fatigue. When they don’t collapse, they at least require a lot of attention and must rest a great deal of time before being able to move on and rejoin their families. They’ve given it their all, so to speak.

The guy who did not collapse upon finishing tears off a leg from a table, or grabs a folding chair, and proceeds to beat up (and kill) all the other finishers that arrived before him.

Having thus eliminated his competition, the guy can claim a spot for the World Championship during the roll-down the next day…

(So, not a very realistic scene, and perhaps some of the organizers would manage to stop him before the rampage gets too bloody. And the guy would probably get arrested and also not be able to show up at the roll-down. But there’s a point to this, and here it is:)

In conclusion to Part 1, perhaps collapsing, or in general requiring assistance when you reach the finish line of a race, is not the best survival strategy. Not only can it do serious damage to your body, it all likelihood it will preclude you from going about your normal activities for a while.

Perhaps, as I’ll try to argue in Part 2, it is better to act more like a Defender when racing, and in life in general.


Photo by Pixabay.