Text by Kelly O’Mara | Photo from: Kaori Photo / Wildflower Experience 2018

‘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 May 9, 2018.

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When you go to a race in the middle of nowhere, with no real internet or phone reception, what happens is: you have no idea about anything happening outside of that race. I was at Wildflower for three days this past week, so the amount I internet-ed is low but my hanging out quotient is high. It was what Wildflower (or triathlon generally) is supposed to be: hard, hot, fun, and lots of friends. And, a special hi to all the people who came up to tell me they like the newsletter and podcast. You’re my favorite.

Why do we quit?

In some larger sense, this photo of Nathan Killam taking third at Wildflower this weekend is why we don’t quit when it gets hard. (Photo from: Kaori Photo / Wildflower Experience 2018) We don’t quit because we hope it’ll all be worth it, because we believe one day the hard work will pay off, because there’s nothing like thinking you can’t do something and doing it anyway. We don’t quit because we want to experience what he experienced at the finish line on Saturday.

But, in reality, in the moment, the reasons for not quitting are never that grand. I raced Wildflower this past weekend too and my expression at the finish did not look like Killam’s. It’s a hard, hot race and there was a long period on the run where I thought I was going to quit. I was starting to struggle with heatstroke; I was dizzy and getting chills; I was barely moving forward on the steep trails. I was only five miles in and the whole thing seemed stupid.

Here is a list of reasons I ultimately didn’t quit:

  • I caught up to one of the guys who works for my bike sponsor and he told me to keep going.
  • A friend riding by at the end of the bike leg yelled something that made me sort of laugh, and I thought if I can laugh then I can run.
  • I passed one of the pro men who was having a very bad day, and I figured if he hadn’t quit yet then I really shouldn’t either.
  • I tried to imagine explaining to my coach or my husband why I dropped out, and it sounded stupid in my head.
  • Mostly though, I could see my teammate up ahead of me and, even in my shuffling slog, she stopped putting time on me. And then I started to gain, ever so slightly, on her. Seemed like if she was still running, then I should keep running too.

None of those are grand big reasons. Some of them are pretty damn petty and small. But they got me through the bad part and then, by the time things got legitimately worse, I knew I was going to finish. At Kona, when I was stopped on the side of the road throwing up, the only reason I didn’t quit was because another random athlete running by said, “Come on, keep going,” and she seemed to have a clearer idea about what to do than I did, so I kept running. One time, I finished a race solely because my car was parked by the finish line and I had to get back to it. Another time, I kept going because it was really cold out and moving was the best way to stay warm.

There’s been a lot written recently about how athletes learn to endure. It’s a trendy topic. The new book Endure is a solid look into how much our limits are real and how much they’re in our minds. (Spoiler: Quite a bit is in our minds.) When I was working on a similar story about how to train our brains, the crux of the issue seemed to come down to two things: If there is a physical limit on our ability to endure, then we can both push that limit farther out through training and also train ourselves to be more comfortable operating around the limit.

But the more I think about this question—why we quit some times and not other times—the more I think it often comes down to the smallest of margins, the thinnest of seconds that make all the difference. Some days it’s an active choice, every single step, not to quit. Sometimes it’s the tiniest things that keep us going—a new flavor at the aid station, a person we know is waiting to cheer for us, or even the fact that no one is waiting and we *have* to get to the finish. Sometimes quitting just becomes a habit we have to unlearn.

I don’t actually know. I don’t have some secret. I always struggle with the desire to quit, to walk it in. But I do know that the next time I want to quit I can now think to myself, “Well, you didn’t quit last time,” and then I’ll probably keep going, and maybe that time will be the time it’ll all be worth it.

At the races

Oh, yeah, so Wildflower happened. It’s back, with a trail run and a SUP race and a sprint and a whole bunch of other stuff too now. There were about 5,000 people in the campgrounds over the course of the weekend (and one of them had the craziest story). Hopefully, the race manages to maintain those numbers to some degree. Heather Jackson won her fourth one. Jesse Thomas lost after six (and maybe is done with triathlon kinda? or not?) and surprise winner Rudy Von Berg was spontaneously carried up to the awards podium on the shoulders of some friends who were really excited and possibly drunk.

But there were a whole bunch of other races this weekend too. Like a lot. Like we’re in racing season now and the sport can’t seem to stop itself from over-saturating the market.

Lionel Sanders and Paula Findlay won at the Ironman North American 70.3 champs. (My mom asked how it gets decided something is the North American championship. Ironman just decides, Mom, that’s how.) Laura Siddall took her second Ironman Australia title and I really like her, so good for her. There was a World Cup in Chengduan American Cup sprint race in Floridaa Challenge race in Italy, and a 70.3-turned-duathlon in Australia where the top three women were DQ’d for missing a turn.

Explain to me again what exactly triathlon’s business problems are.

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If We Were Riding’ is a weekly triathlon-ish newsletter written by Kelly O’Mara and produced by Live Feisty Media. Subscribe to get it in your inbox every Wednesday morning. You can also read past issues or listen to the semi-related podcast of the same name on Fridays. If you like what you read (or hear), consider forwarding to a friend who might be interested in triathlon-adjacent news.
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