Thursday, November 1, 2012

Miseducation of John's Feet: The Allure

The biggest question I think I had for myself in putting this together was “How the hell did I get here?” A good question, and kind of a comical answer.
I rode mountain bikes a little bit in high school and college, and started racing road bikes when I was a junior. And by racing, I mean staying with the pack for about 3 miles of a 40-mile race. But my buddy Dave Allen persuaded me to race and keep coming out and giving it a go, and to this day I credit (or blame) him for loving the raw speed only the road bike can provide.   Yeah, yeah, that’s all well and good, but what about Ironman? How did you get pulled into Ironman racing?
Well after a whopping 4 months of racing triathlons, I started reading everything triathlon I could get my hands on. Most of the articles and talk were about Ironman and all of the races throughout North America. There was Peter Reid, Tim DeBoom, Natascha Badmann, Heather Fuhr, Simon Lessing on the national scene winning races. But really the intrigue started with our local Ironman superstars. You had guys like Jimmy Bienvenue, Mike Alexander, Jerry Martinez, Robert Mitchell, Mark Miller, Jody Ferguson, Ken St. Pe’, Keith Manuel, John Deshotel, Charles Brenke. They called themselves “Team LIT”, and these guys were the big guns in triathlon. They had the respect in the triathlon circle that the rodeo clowns get at the rodeo. These guys were the real deal. Hearing stories of these crazy epic rides to Kaplan, Opelousas, Church Point, and all over south Louisiana.  One of the “Team LIT” members explained their crew as “drinkers with a triathlon problem.”
Nevertheless, I wanted into that party. Just the idea of the Ironman race sounded gnarly. I was pretty shitty on the swim, and good on the bike. The run? Well, I played soccer, how hard could the run be? Besides the monster miles and larger than life characters, the three things that lured me into Ironman were: the competition, the camaraderie, and Peter Pan syndrome.
Competition was everywhere in soccer. From age 6, seeing who could get the most soccer ball patches on their shorts for scoring goals, to who played the most minutes per season. You were constantly in competition, trying to win your starting spot on the field, trying to keep your spot, trying to score goals, trying to win games, trying to pick up chicks because you scored goals that won games. You get the idea. I was a lazy forward, and there was nothing better than that battle of one forward with the ball versus a couple defenders and a keeper. It was as much a mental battle as it was physical. There were fights, shirt pulls, fists, and even a Gatorade squirt to the face (allegedly). But after that last game at DePauw, the competition in my life was over because soccer was over. No more battles, no more bus rides, no more pre-race music on the Discman (no judgment youngsters!), and no more adrenaline from all that competition. I did try to party for a while, but I wasn’t very good at it. Plus, since I was already losing my hair as a senior in college, I could never fit in with the gel craze at Amanda Scott’s / 410. I tried to bike race for a year or two, but just got frustrated with the shenanigans of it all. You’re telling me the guy that is the craftiest, not the fittest could win this race? Not cool. But Ironman, where the toughest, hardest working, fittest person wins. This is cool! This is for me! Competition and scoring goals in soccer was fun, and I may have embellished my goal celebrations a bit much for how good I really was. But one thing I missed more than the competition was the camaraderie.
Long bus rides, those stupid inside jokes at practice, hiding coaches keys so he couldn’t get the gear out of the shed. These were all the day-to-day bonding and general goofing off that I missed once soccer was over. So when I looked at Ironman and saw that I’d get to go on 5-hour bike rides and tell stories, cut up, and generally act foolish, how could I resist?
The last (and most important) allure to Ironman for me was / is “The Peter Pan syndrome.” I’m sure all the psychologists (Elyse included) are licking their chops on this one. What is the Peter Pan syndrome? Well, it’s the refusal to grow up. Somehow, I figured out / decided that it was socially acceptable to continue being a kid as long as I did kid things. And riding my bike, swimming and running definitely qualified as kid things. Ironman offered me an avenue to stay young, and never grow up. Because after all, when you spend all your time swimming, biking and running, how could you possibly have time to do any grown up things like applying for a mortgage, buying investment property or starting a side business? No, Ironman was the perfect escape from reality. It gave me the same experiences and opportunities that soccer provided all 16 years, and gave me an excuse to see cool places and spend money, time and effort on kid stuff like bikes.
After 9 years of racing, I don’t regret a single minute. I would still fall victim to the allure of Ironman racing if I knew then what I know now. I may be poorer for all of the business / career opportunities missed, but the ability to extend the competition, camaraderie and the chance to not grow up is a deal I would make again. I’ll be forever grateful for falling victim to the allure of the Ironman, and for all of the experiences I’ve had on the race courses throughout the world.

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