(Thanks to Carrie Goodbrake—a pseudonym if I've ever heard one—for the beautiful picture; see it in it's original format here)
When I saw this lovely, albeit 'shopped, photo yesterday, I finally admitted that this 'Cross season is, officially, a wash. The Cross Crusade, with its not-heavily-veiled proselytizing, gathers more people to one race site for eight weekends in a row up here in the PacNW, and I planned, back when my tri season was folding up like a cheap lawn chair, to focus on the Mecca in my backyard.
Things happened. I couldn't afford a new bike for a while; my tri training picked up and two solid results followed; I spent a few other weekends settling into my new digs, or spending time with Amy, two things I wouldn't trade, even for a 'Cross race. But something had to go, and 'Cross went. I'm hardly regretful, probably more bemused at the choices we have to make in our weekly, monthly, and yearly lives. Interested, I contacted two athletes I respect deeply: one is a professional triathlete many of you know; the other is a retired athlete on the comeback trail who killed it, back in the day, racing 'Cross nats when pedals had toeclips, steel bikes got chopped into 'Cross rigs in your backyard, and wool was a technical fiber. I asked both of them what they'd had to sacrifice to "make it" in their respective sports (I've got "make it" in quotes because, in both of these pursuits, making it is more about finding personal and social success, rather than financial).
My triathlete friend laughed at first, and spat out "My 40K a year job!" He later (mostly) retracted this statement, since his coaching business runs smoothly right now, and instead said that the only thing about which he's got any reservations is how training can affect his mood, and, by extension, his partner (I thought this was a pretty admirable concern to note–the names have been changed in the following quote):
"I'll also be honest in saying that I'm not always a fun person to be around, especially for poor Alison; If I'm not tired and cranky during the big training blocks, I'm nervous and on edge as race day approaches. I think that it's also fair to say that my focus boarders on self centeredness the vast majority of the time. As such, I'm not the only one that has to sacrifice. Ali has to deal with a lot of B.S. thanks to my constant mood swings, lack of interest/energy in most things non-triathlon related etc."
He followed this admission up with a frank "But... I don't regret a thing. I'm doing exactly what I've always wanted to do so it's all good. I take the good with the bad, do my best on the athletic, personal and professional fronts and plow forward. I don't plan on staying in the sport after my days as a 'PRO' come to an end, so my attitude is that I'll have plenty of time for the house, kids, money and leisure time/activities in the not-so-distant future."
You'll not he used upper-case letters; it's o.k. He deserves them. My other study subject, a garrulous fellow with whom I share a lot of loves and issues, responded thus: "At the time I would have said, 'Sex.' But looking back, knowing what I know now about teenage boys, the answer is, 'Working at a Joe Job to earn enough money to operate a car so I could partake in the fruitless pursuit of sex.' I worked at Joe Jobs, but only long enough to earn a stash for tubulars and entry fees for the coming season. Most chicks don't dig guys who can't afford to take them out and entertain them. I suppose later on I had some educational and career opportunities that I turned down because they were incompatible with my training lifestyle, but one of my training/racing buddies was a med school student, so I'm not sure I wasn't just using the bike as an excuse to dodge boring jobs and lifestyles. Maybe that's where my materialism got sacrificed, but that's a plus in my book. I don't know, Bucky. There was a lot of physical pain required to do what I did, but it really was a panacea for the emotional pain I was in during my teens and twenties. I may have sacrificed a lot of beer drinking and recreational drug use because, after a 350-mile week, I was pretty much looped on two beers. I'm not sure my liver thinks of it as a sacrifice. Overall, I think of the whole thing as more of an indulgence than a sacrifice. I'm never covetous of other people's mundane stories, but they sure like to hear about old racing tales."
I think most of us can sympathize, here. Picking up an "indulgence" that's actually more about pain than pleasure, but that also whispers, quietly, to you for other good reasons: there's a camaraderie of pain and, of course, the objective appearance of steady improvement. I wrestle with these issues a lot, as you know, wondering if the payoff is worth the pay-in, the decisions made, the other interests sacrificed. I guess, if had decided it weren't, I wouldn't be posting this, today.
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