Note: This post took me quite a while to write. It's been brewing in my head for a long time, and I'm glad to finally release it to you. Thanks for sharing in my journey.
Remember how it began?
"I wonder . . ." or "I bet . . ." or "With enough training . . ."
The goal was to get through it, wasn't it? You knew that if you could be sure that you could swim 525 yards (or 1050 or 1500), could bike 12.5 miles (or 41 km), could just run 3.2 miles (or 6.3 or whatever), you could definitely finish. If you could go the distance and then some, you would definitely cross the line.
And so you did. Then maybe you were two months out from the race when you started thinking, "I know I can finish, but I sure hope I don't finish last." Maybe you even started figuring paces from your workouts, comparing them to finish times from previous years' results. Finishing was no longer enough; you wanted to finish before someone else. Maybe you wanted to win.
Yeah, goals in triathlon are a funny thing. It's not like running or swimming, where most of the top competitors have been top competitors since they were young (and if you couldn't beat the top dogs in 8th grade cross country, what hope do you have now?) . . . Pretty much everyone who's been successful in triathlon is (relatively) new to the sport. Why? Because most of us didn't know this sport existed in high school.
Triathlon is very, as my group fitness director put it, "user friendly"; it's a sport that anyone can do. As my friend Jonathan in the Distance wrote last week, Ironman is everyman. It's every woman, too.
Racing in triathlon is a lot like second-wave immigrants coming to America. It was (still is) such a young country; what wasn't possible in a country like that? If you were hard-working and slightly savvy, the world was your oyster. And maybe not everyone would end up a Rockefeller, but everyone had a shot at comfort. That's what triathlon is like--it's fresh, it's big, and it provides plenty of room for spreading out. You may never be a Dave Scott or Michellie Jones, but you can live that same lifestyle of pushing yourself farther than what seems humanly possible.
All that to say that after a little bit of time in this sport, finishing event after event is no longer enough. You know you can do the distance, but the sport doesn't lose its appeal for that. It's odd, too, in that your new goal comes while you're still doing a race. Tell me, fellow athletes, that you've never spent at least part of a race thinking about how you'll train next time for a faster split. The goal could be anything; break 10 minutes for a 500 yard swim; average 17.5 MPH on your next bike split; run an 8:00-minute pace for a full 10km. Maybe you want to break 3 hours on your next Olympic; maybe you want to break 12 hours on your next Ironman.
The wonderful part about this sport (and about America, if you care to continue the earlier analogy) is that it presents an evolution of goals. And that evolution takes you from wondering what is possible to wondering what isn't.