There is a funny thing that happens before every triathlon. You have to go over to the body marking station and they literally mark your body. They take a marker and write your number on both arms, sometimes even your hands. This is in case you drown on the swim or crash on your bike, then they can quickly identify your body. At least that is my assumption. Then on your left calf they write which race you’re participating in; such as Olympic, Duathlon, Sprint, Relay or Aquabike. Now the funny marking is that on your right calf they write your age. Results are separated into age categories so age is important. It does make it interesting that in a race that when somebody goes by on the bike or in the run you can see if they are in your age bracket or not.
Which leads to my story from a recent race on Belle Isle. I was participating in an Olympic distance triathlon, which included about a mile swim, a 28 mile bike ride and a 6.2 mile run-35 miles total. With only two miles left of the run I had a guy pass me and as I looked at his calves I noticed that he had a T on one calf and 55 on the other. He was in my race and in my age bracket! Who was this guy? He wore a light blue race kit with “Christina’s Angels” printed on it. Never mind who this Christina is-probably some kid dying of cancer, but who cares-this guy is passing me with only two miles to go in the race! I’ve stayed in front of this guy for 33 miles, and this could be the difference between me getting on the podium or not. Just a little bit further down the road we came to an aid station and he stopped for water. I grabbed a water but kept running and was able to pass him!
Now I knew that he was right behind me and if I wanted to stay ahead of him I would have to really dig deep. I strived to quicken my cadence and push aside the discomfort of a quickened pace. I held him off for maybe another quarter of a mile or so. Once he was in front again all I could do was stick with his pace and try to out “kick” him at the very end. Despite my best efforts I slowly drifted back to about 100 yards behind him. It didn’t seem like he gained more than that but I couldn’t seem to close the gap either. Then about one mile from the end of the race we came to another aid station. Once again he stopped to get water and I was able to gain about 50 yards. I didn’t even get any water this time, I simply put my head down and tried to catch him. I never did catch him. Having him there really pushed my normal pace, but in the end he ended up about 200 yards in front of me.
After the race was over I drank my weight in Gatorade plus lightly stretched my very sore muscles. Then I finally went over to the results sheet. It was then that I realized Mr. “Christina’s Angels” was not in my age-group at all! The age-groups are 50-54 (mine), then 55-59 (his). I tell you, when you’re in a triathlon your brain is so oxygen deprived that you can’t think clearly!
Although that wrong assumption pushed me to go faster in that race, in real life focusing on the wrong target can have much more disastrous results. One of the most common examples is the work-a-holic. They put in hours and hours into their careers but in the end realize that they’ve been chasing the wrong target. In triathlon I see those that pursue physical fitness, performance, and health to the detriment of their families and marriages. There are a million false targets out there and what is usually the case is that you take something that is good (for example: work, health, sex, food, entertainment, etc.) and push it to an extreme and in the end you’re pursuing the wrong target. No matter how fast you run after the wrong target, you still end up losing the race.
Jesus told his disciples:
‘‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life? Or what shall a man give in return for his life? 27 For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done.’’ (Matthew 16: 24b-27 ESV)
And Paul even uses the race analogy in 1 Corinthians 9:
24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. 25 Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. 26 So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. 27 But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.
Now that’s a very different kind of race, and one worth giving every ounce of strength toward winning!