Inspiration and plenty of pain at XTERRA Tri

Until this year, the last time I’d ridden a bike in anger was during a brief mountain bike racing career during high school in the South, where cycling was about as common as sushi restaurants.

But after a little dabbling (and a friendly shove) in triathlon last year, I signed up for a few local races during the summer to see if I was made of tough enough stuff. After decent results, overconfidence and some dubious well-wishers convinced me to sign up for the Utah XTERRA Off Road Triathlon, by far the hardest race I’d ever attempted.

I’m always amazed at the vast range of people who show up to compete in local races, whether a 5k fun run or a competitive sprint triathlon. XTERRA didn’t disappoint. For every chiseled, rippling hammerhead (Hi, Lance!), there were half a dozen housewives, desk jockeys (your’s truly) and senior citizens.

There’s a special inspiration in seeing the pros, to just stand there slack-jawed at their speed and appreciate truly exceptional talent. But I come away from events like this motivated for the next early morning run or cold swim by the people who find the time to make themselves into athletes in the margins of their “real life,” something that requires a passion for sport that I don’t always possess.

While cursing my lack of commitment to training during a particularly brutal climb along the run course, a steady stream of competitors blew past with their age group stamped prominently on their muscled calves. As cramps turned my legs into knotted lava, a woman motored by and threw some encouraging words in my direction. On her calf was “60″ and on my face, I’m sure, was self-loathing followed immediately by immense respect.

For the next 12 months, each a time a morning bagel sounds better than a morning run, I’ll have turbo granny front and center in my mind to get me out the door. And not because I want to beat her (I do, though), but because I can think of nothing more motivating than enjoying that kind of fitness when I’m 35, much less 60.

Later, I was sucking down orange slices along the finish straight, a guy in his 30s who was at least 70 pounds overweight came across the line. Clearly hurting, the big guy walked over to a waiting group of friends and family and loudly declared “That was the stupidest thing I’ve ever done!”

I couldn’t agree more. See you next year.

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