“Why are you doing this?”
It’s a question I’ve been asked many times over the past few years. Some people ask it with that look on their face—like, no matter what answer I give, it won’t be good enough.
But it’s a legitimate question that anyone doing long-distance racing needs to ask themselves. Because there’s going to come a time during a race when you’ll need an answer.
My time came during the swim portion of the Oliver aqua-bike race last summer. It began with a savage mass start. People were swimming over each other and bashing each other on the head (accidentally, I think). I always expect a certain amount of this at the beginning, but even halfway through the first loop things hadn’t settled down. I couldn’t find my rhythm.
That was when I started to question my life choices—because THIS WASN’T FUN.
Why am I doing this?
What if I just got out? Like, stopped. Like, stopped doing triathlons FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE.
But I didn’t stop. I weathered the existential crisis. The swim settled down, I had a fantastic ride, and all was well.
Still—it was an important moment and it made me realize: if you don’t have a compelling answer to the question of why, there’s a good chance you will stop. Racing is hard. Training is hard. It’s not always fun to get up at five in the morning to work out, or spend four hours on your bike.
Nietzsche once wrote, “He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.” Considering Viktor Frankl used this line in his incredible book, Man’s Search For Meaning (which is about how he survived a concentration camp), it seems irreverent to use it in relation to Ironman. However, the point remains: if you have a compelling reason for what you’re doing, you won’t give up on it, no matter how hard it gets.
There’s no right answer to the question of why. There is only a right answer for you. And you can’t borrow someone else’s answer. That doesn’t work. What compels one person to make certain life choices may be completely meaningless to someone else. Superficial answers don’t work either, because they don’t stand up to the reality of how crappy you can feel in the middle of a race.
I’m not even sure I can explain my why, but I know what it is: a deep conviction that I was made for this sport. It sounds cheesy and pretentious, right? Like, get over yourself. I know. When someone asks me face to face, that is not what I say. I mumble something about having always wanted to do it ever since I’d heard about the first Ironman race when I was in my twenties. That is also true, but it’s not what gets me through the long hours of training or the rough spots of a race.
If you’ve been doing long-distance racing for any length of time, you have probably already faced this demon. I’d love to hear your why.
If you’re new to the sport, this is something I urge you to spend time thinking about.
And, by the way, this can be applied to any long-term project. I’ve faced it down in the middle of writing many a novel. Whenever I’ve been unable to come up with a compelling answer, the novel ended up in a drawer, unfinished. So—this is important.
Here’s my morning ride. Because . . . why spend almost three hours on a trainer when you could literally be doing ANYTHING ELSE and it would be more interesting? See? You need an answer. Though the truth is, on a Sunday morning, there’s nothing else I’d rather be doing.