For the past few years, on most Fridays, we have gathered at a friend’s place to enjoy food, good company and mutual cajoling. It started as a way to herald the idealized awesomeness that the weekend would bring, or a bitch-fest to unload the nasties we each went through during the week. It became a usual thing; we have been doing this before life tribulations turned most of us from racers to dilettanti. We kindly refer to this semi-impromptu micro-sized box social as The Yuge. People show up, bring the kids, adult beverages and the respective partners. For those without kids (yet), dessert wine is preferred to celebrate the oh-so sweet uninterrupted sleep. Geography and its conveniences dictate we meet at the most central spot available, so The Yuge takes place at Dimitri and Mary-Anne’s, not that far from most of us. Now who the hell are Dimitri and Mary-Anne? Both are former road racers who met through cycling, and as love would have it, things happened: marriage, 2 kids, and all but total suspension of their athletic endeavors. That is, until recently. In the past few years they decided to rekindle their combative spark and resume sports competition. Beautiful, right? Well, both are primarily roadies and spend most of their active time on the pavement, both have raced cross before, so coming back into the fray would be a no brainer, especially in a cycling-heavy area such as New England. But no. Much to my horror, they decided to engage in Triathlons, the short distance kind, also referred to as “Sprint Triathlons”. But we are friends, Dimitri (or Demetrius) and I go back 12+ years, and we love each other, so we offer support.
Which brings me back to a recent lovely summer afternoon. The kids were trashing the yard, Kyle had brought some Moscato, and the conversation was flowing as smoothly as a master racer’s pedal strokes. I already knew the results of their latest event, which had big “X’s” on the calendar, meaning those were target dates that would potentially qualify them for World Championships (it’s true). This was no “gotta gets me a top 10 at Joe Hobo crit”, no sir. And for the sake of expediency, both qualified. Hooray. But this is not the crux of this article. As we know, results alone don’t tell the whole story. As athletes we like to know how the proceedings developed, the sensations pre/during/post the event, the whole dynamics. Dimitri already relayed me his heroics, and I wanted to hear from Mary-Anne’s experience. And this is exactly what I’d like to explore here.
Mary-Anne prefaced her account with a very long list of disclaimers, similar to the ones when you rent a video and cannot fast forward, so you just sit there and try to mentally be elsewhere ASAP. But the ASAP never happens, does it? “If you consider that I had a bum shoulder, haven’t swum in 5 weeks, so I couldn’t really ride my bike like I wanted, and the water was choppy, and I didn’t sleep well the night before because I ate something funny, and Dimitri stole my wheels during training and I couldn’t practice on my real bike, and I had to wake up earlier than usual, requiring me to…”, by that time she had already lost me, and my attempts to fast forward by drinking more Moscato was resulting in a funky stomach and a sweaty brow. And I wondered if she was talking to me or reading from an obscure passage of the Bible that no one knows about, or reciting from memory one of Fidel Castro’s famously long, 4-hour speeches. As she rambled I thought “damn triathletes and their several sports. It only makes long stories longer.”
Then I snapped to and realized something. As much as we (or I) love to poke fun at other sports, I suppose the “disclaimers” are a most-leveling and quasi-mandatory feature in many post-event commentaries. Because disclaimers add color, they can also airbrush or blot an athlete’s adventure throughout the day. They provide spice by exaggerating difficulties or mercy by pre-handicapping in exchange for better appreciation of the efforts at hand. Hear Joe-Division-3-Pro telling how his week was prior to a big classic he has no prayer of finishing, and it’s not that different from one of the flagship guys’ pre-race dictum. You hear tales of diarrhea, colds, saddle sores, crashes-that-are-not-yet-healed, muscle-twinges, or some impending suspension due to shady medical associations. You name it, we’ll find a disclaimer. And that, my friends, is how we distill sports to their essence: we go to the core, explore, dissect, handle and move on with our innermost neurosis. Naturally her insecurities are a result of a long hiatus from competitive activities, and I understood and embraced her adventures. And you know what? It was unusually fantastic for me, witnessing first hand about her dealings in a very ass-kicking trajectory to Worlds, years after she hung up her cleats, had knee surgery, not to mention having kids not so long ago. And I hope this becomes her new usual method of success.