Photo by Lauren Palmer for Smashfest Queen

‘If We Were Riding’ is a weekly triathlon-ish newsletter written by Kelly O’Mara and produced by Live Feisty MediaSubscribe to get it in your inbox every Wednesday morning. You can also read past issues. This episode is from April 18, 2018.

I’m trying to catch up on work and life right now, sitting in the Tucson airport headed home from training camp, so this week’s newsletter might be a bit light. (I didn’t even open my computer two whole days this weekend!) But if you’re looking for more to read, let me suggest the Pulitzer winners. They’re a bit more high-brow than what we actually talked about while riding, but what we actually talked about was a lot of women’s health stuff that I’m not sure everyone really wants to know all the details of.

What even is camp?

I spent the last five days (or six, hard to say, it sort of blurs) at triathlon training camp in Arizona. It didn’t all look as cool as that picture above — photo from the Lauren Palmer. Actually, most of it looked really not cool. Most of it was just a big mess of snot and gasping and trying not to vomit and eating and sunscreen and more eating and sunscreen. So why go? Why take days off of work for a mini-not-vacation that leaves you exhausted and likely emotionally drained?

Someone asked me this a month or two ago (while we were riding): What’s the point of a training camp anyway? And I broke it down to a handful of practical reasons:

  • Usually training camps are held somewhere warm, when the winter weather in other places prevents large amounts of outdoor training. It’s an escape from the snow and ice (or rain, in my case).
  • It also gives you an opportunity to put in a big block of fitness, then recover and let the work sink in before your early season races.
  • Often, if you go to a camp with your coach, then it’s a chance for them to see you in action. How do you really respond when things get tough? (Not to mention, it’ll be clear if you’ve been lying in your training logs.) Plus, they can potentially correct form or technique issues.
  • And you’ll likely push yourself harder with teammates and training partners challenging you. You can then take home whatever knowledge you gain about the speeds and times you now know you can hit. Elevate your game.
  • For a lot of us, let’s be real, this is what we do for fun.

But, honestly, beyond the practical reasons and the training implications, I think there’s an emotional aspect that keeps people coming back over and over, and is part of why training camps have blown up as a trend in the last few years.

For five days or six days or a week, you are not the weirdo at the office. No one is going to say, “You ran how far?” or ask why you do this to yourself. No one is going to question the point of the whole thing or suggest that you can’t ride 140 miles. Of course you can ride 140 miles, because that’s what’s on the schedule and it’s what we’re all doing.

Wrapped within this reframing of what is normal is another reframing of what is possible. I don’t think it’s an accident that so many people have emotional meltdowns at training camp. (At least in my personal experience.) This training camp space, separate from the real world, gives you a moment to stop worrying about whether it’s normal to be sobbing in a bathroom at the top of a mountain or running down the side of a highway trying not to vomit—both things I have done. And once you go through that moment and come out the other side, you can’t go back to what normal used to be. Now it is possible to be more.

I’m not crying, you’re crying

We happened to finish our last tough workout at camp just as the Boston Marathon was finishing. And I might have cried when I got back to my phone and saw Desi Linden win. And I possibly teared up again when Shalane Flanagan, who had been getting all the press going into Boston after her historic New York Marathon win, had nothing but excitement and support for Desi—even though Shalane’s own race went a little shit and she ended up 7th: “It’s your turn now.”

What made Marathon Monday amazing was that it was truly genuinely a race for anyone. A full-time nurse came in second?! So many of the favorites dropped out. Everything about the insane conditions blew the competition open and made it a race for the grinders, for those willing to simply tough things out out. And Desi has always been a grinder, ready to keep at the work. “Keep showing up,” she says. Plus, if you ever think you feel bad during a race, consider her explanation of why she slowed down to wait for Shalane: SHE FELT TERRIBLE AND THOUGHT SHE WAS PROBABLY GOING TO DROP OUT. So, she said to Shalane, “I might drop out today, if you need something, some help or whatever, let me know.” And then once they caught back up, said Desi, “Molly was at the front and I thought, ‘Well, I should probably help Molly, and when I turned back I was fourth, then third and I thought, ‘Well, I probably shouldn’t drop out.’”

Well, I probably shouldn’t drop out.

P.S. Look at some of these interesting stats about the incredibly high percentage of elites who dropped out and how it compared between genders. Hint: women tended to stick at it, for whatever reason.

Was there even a men’s race? (I kid. I kid.) Yuki Kawauchi, the People’s Champion, who up to that day had run 76 sub-2:20 marathons, WON. That is also insane. And Americans were all over the top ten, with a couple of women from outside the elite field clocking top ten times from back in the regular masses and then going back to work the next day.

Plus, Tim Don, back from breaking his fucking neck at Kona, ran a 2:49. So, you know, whatever reason you have for quitting, you probably should keep going instead.

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If We Were Riding’ is a weekly triathlon-ish newsletter written by Kelly O’Mara and produced with Live Feisty MediaSubscribe to get it in your email inbox every Wednesday morning. You can read past issues or listen to our podcast of the same name on Fridays. If you like what you read, consider forwarding to a friend or sharing the link. 

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