While I was trotting steadily along the path under the warm solstice sun during the run portion of the Guelph Lake Triathlon last weekend, it came to me that one of the things I enjoy most about triathlon is the continuity of effort that it both provides and demands. Unlike the sports of swimming, biking, or running by themselves, in triathlon there is no real finish line for the first two events. Unless you are part of a relay team (which sort of defeats the purpose of entering a triathlon in the first place, doesn’t it?), you can’t sit down and rest after the swim or the bike; there is more to be done. The end of the swim is the start of the bike; the end of the bike is the start of the run.
After each event, a clock somewhere is reset to zero. I love the contiguous challenges of the three disciplines, whether they stretch over a couple of hours in a Sprint distance race, or fifteen in an Ironman.At Guelph Lake this year, the first day of summer lived up to its name, with blue skies, warm temperatures, and light breezes. When the gun went off, I splashed into the water with the last wave of racers and quickly got left behind even by them. The effort of the continuous stroking over the 1500 metres felt familiar and relaxed. Of course I wasn’t working hard enough, but I knew I was working. I trotted up the long hill to transition leaving only a few folks in the water behind me.
Although it’s still early in the season for me, I got on my bike and started pedalling as if I had been doing it all winter—which I had… but mostly on my indoor trainer. It’s funny how I still think of my P2 as a newish bike even though I have had it for six years. The bike and I have been through a lot together: many slogs up Richter Pass at Ironman Canada; a hot, dusty century in Death Valley (before I had my road bike); humidity-drenched rides in the Florida 70.3; a clavicle-snapping crash in Muskoka; and countless rides in all weathers through Algonquin Park. The bike and I fit each other so well that I sometimes feel I could fall asleep in the aerobars during a long ride.
The Guelph Lake bike course slipped quickly past farm fields and cow pastures. There aren’t many thigh-burning hills, and the road surfaces are worn but navigable. My legs just kept pushing the pedals, the big wheels kept on turning , and, as often happens with an Olympic bike distance, the ride was over before I had truly settled in.I don’t know why it had not occurred to me that it might be hot on the run. I suppose I thought that since it was a short race, the air would still be morning-cool before the run was over. It wasn’t. I felt very little breeze or shade along the paths through the park that made up the run course. In some places the heat rising from the grown-over roadways reminded me of the tarring scene in Cool Hand Luke. Except for the noisy enthusiasm of the aid station volunteers, it was warmly quiet and peaceful as I ran along with a slow and easy pace. I was so immersed in the constant rhythm of my footsteps that I barely looked up when I crossed the finish line.
Still, there's no stopping. The end of the race is not really an end, but the beginning of other things: you have to pack up your stuff, drive home, and then start planning for the next race: swimming, biking, and running. A triathlete’s summer is a continuum of activity.
|Set the clock back to zero.|
Do it all again next time.
There is an ongoing forward motion to the best parts of our lives, where one step leads to the next and one road gives onto the next. The end of a thing is always the beginning of another; this is how we make sense of our existence, and how we maintain hope.E.B. White once wrote about the ritual act of winding up the grandfather clock each Sunday, to give structure and continuity to the week ahead. I metaphorically wind up the clock after each athletic challenge in the wishful hope that there will be another one ahead for it to measure, and that I will be ready to meet it.