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October 22, 2008

Your significant other.

Hobby. Past-time. Recreation. Exercise. Factually speaking all are correct. Triathlon is each of those things and yet in a classic case of synergy, it is much, much more than their sum, even if the sport consists of three disciplines.

Hobbies come and go. Past-times are mentioned in “Are you smarter than a fifth grader” bios. A recreation is a pleasant way to pass a weekend day. Exercise is what doctors tell people to get more of. The fact is, when you clip in that first foot on Sunday morning as you depart on “the Big Ride”, what’s on your mind is both more serious and less so.

Significant. It’s not a term most of us commonly use, but it often refers to the “other,” that person we consider an outer focal point for much of our energy. It is also an apt description for the position triathlon occupies in our lives.

And yet, were anyone to suggest we formalize that relationship, to make some public declaration, such an action would trivialize both triathlon and the ritual. Why is it any surprising juxtaposition must be comedic? We laugh at ads that depict a triathlete with his/her bicycle in bed. We get the devotion, but such an obvious expression cruises straight past hyperbole to ridiculous. And so we laugh.

Were someone to walk down the aisle with his bicycle wearing their Newtons we’d laugh. Get a life. You know you’d say it. But really, in the grand scheme, the object of your affection notwithstanding, it was in triathlon most of us learned the true meaning of commitment.

We’ve writ that word large and small. There’s the attack you hold until your legs fill with lactic acid and you slow like an unwound clock, training morning after early morning, the dates and goals penciled into training diaries, and even the refusals, which for most would be the hot stuff in the corner of the bar, but for us is dessert, an extra beer.

Done right, the things you share with your husband or wife, girlfriend or boyfriend are multitude. Your favorite person to tell stories, to crack jokes, share a pretty day, think something through, express yourself in the most physical of ways, or plan a future.

In triathlon you learn that getting dropped, bonking, crashing, walking, drowning, poor motivation, third flats, being fat, getting pinched, hours of rain and cold and even saddle sores aren’t just something to avoid, but a necessary part of the fabric of the experience. Without those days—without them by the boatload—you haven’t really immersed yourself in the sport. Without a reservoir of terrible times you’ve endured you lack that reserve to draw upon, knowledge that it gets better, sometimes even in the same day. Only a true triathlete knows that you can question the urge to be training and enjoy fantastic form all within a single hour.

The worst times pass. And the best days, they come after months of preparation. The best days we celebrate when we get the chance.

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