O body swayed to music,
O brightening glance,
How can we know the dancer
From the dance?
William B. Yeats
Ahh, yes. Read it again, let it’s implications linger. The beauty of the human form perfecting it’s given movement, merging with it, becoming it. These fleeting moments take the highest level of the human psyche and it is an energy that we all revere. It is hard to talk about or put a finger on but Yeats is oh so concise with his prose. To achieve it, takes a most developed human spirit. Most of us only see it. It’s why we all buy tickets to the big game or event, for a chance to see the impossible or the spectacular. But do not relegate yourself to be a spectator, anyone can and should experience their own oneness with movement.
As a younger man I considered myself ultra competitive and that used to mean beating everyone in whatever game happened my way. I am no longer ‘that’ competitive, it’s now about finding that optimal experience, not just in the race but the journey as a whole. A flow that reaches all aspects of life.
The word competition comes from the Latin words con petire, which means “to search together.” The idea is to test your limits, you must match them against the skills of another. What one can accomplish when the challenge is appropriate and shared can test the boundaries of what we deem possible. The point of competition isn’t to beat someone else, but to search out the best in yourself.
Doing well in anything requires absolute focus. Being completely engrossed in the movement of the moment. One of the great things about sport is that one can forget about the ruminations of the mind and everyday life. Turn your energy into the absolute concentration of making your body one with the dance, one with each subtle yet absolutely precise movement. There in lies the magic of the human potential; it is a higher state of being.
Sport, the art of movement, provides the greatest physical and mental pleasure we can experience. A special performance, one that’s intense or redefines what we’re capable of; is, in many cultures, the centerpiece of religious celebration.
I fantasized about IT. It, being what I like to call ‘crystallizing the air’. It’s often referred to as being in the zone, flow, on fire (en fuego!), in the groove, on a high, creating a masterpiece, or the classic; an out of body experience.
Such is the mindset for me as I take on the biggest challenge of my life racing the crème de la crème of the endurance world at Hy-Vee’s Triathlon. The 1.2 million dollar prize purse brought out the best triathletes from around the globe. Yes, the money is exciting but even more so is setting the stage for a wonderful moment to merge with your body, mind, and spirit in sweet harmony.
I prepared myself for a fleeting possibility to crystallize the air on a very big stage against athletes with endurance limits that pushed the known boundaries. I see the race, the challenge, and the competition as a perfect opportunity to merge with the moment, the movement and time in a state of oneness that fills the soul with joy.
Hey, were all in this together. Let’s see what’s possible.
September 4th, 2011 at 4pm
The race has just started and 30 of the best triathletes in the world are floating in the air, taking in one last breath before submerging into the Des Moines River. They are diving in upriver, against the current. The first buoy is a mere 25 yards a way with a sharp 110 degree left turn. They will all converge on this spot virtually together all trying to squeeze the best line. A tenth of a second here could set someone up for some prime open water. One athlete achieves this, Josh Amberger, makes the turn first and get’s himself free and clear. Beautiful. The other 29 athletes are left to scrum it out. Great for spectators and in retrospect, kind of fun for the athletes.
I thought that getting my 10th of a second might come from diving in and doing some underwater dolphin kick. Silly swimmer. I dove in well and streamlined some powerful kicks feeling like I was swiftly sneaking into the current ahead of my competitors. Then, I came to the surface. No, wait, I can’t get to the surface because there are too many bodies in the way. So much for my underwater dolphin kick!? I finally surface only to find myself in the melee of 29 athletes all trying to be the second one to cram into a Volkswagen Beetle. Triathlon meet MMA. I’m getting worked! Elbows, people swimming over the top of me while I’m swimming over the top of someone else, and the lovely kick to the head by getting to close to someone’s heel. All while fighting a strong current. But heck, it’s boys being boys and this set the stage for one of the most fun swims I’ve done.
It’s a three loop swim of just under 500 meters each, (thanks to Andy Potts for pleading with the officials to lengthen it after the obvious short course with the girls times). The swift current made for a most dynamic swim and one with all the elements of challenging course. Swimming against the current took power, skill, and focus. We inched against the force of the water as it took copious amounts of our energy. After a strenuous first lap and running up to dive against the current for lap two I found myself behind, somewhere in the middle of the pack.
Coming into the race I felt like my bike was my weapon and strength with my swim lagging behind a bit. If I could just come out of the water in contact with the leaders then my biking prowess would set me up for a tough but exciting run near the front of the race.
In the second lap I made up time and finished around the top ten. Josh was killing all of us, almost a minute clear. Each lap he won filled his pockets with $5,150!
In the third lap I found my mojo and swam with an inner grin. Wow, this is fun! Turning the second buoy we cruised with the swift current, down river. At this point it felt like we had been swimming for an eternity, but I wanted it to keep on going.
I exited the water seconds off Andy Potts, in the first group. This did little to comfort me as I’ve learned that a hiccup in T1 can be disastrous against these talents. I smoked T1 with the fastest split on the day (Hy-Vee, how about another $5,150 for the fastest T1 & T2!) and mounted my super mean and super fast SCOTT Plasma 3 in 5th position. I started the bike just 4 seconds behind Ben Collins who would go on to win 4 bike primes and the first run prime, each earning him a sweet $5,150! Not a bad payday for a little over an hour of being an endurance monster.
It was an exciting moment to be set up so well for leveraging my bike strength. I realized that the air had been crystallized and the possibility for having the optimal performance was in my grasp.
But flow in sports is a fleeting experience. Just when I got comfortable and felt that I had IT. I lost it. The mind took charge and counter balanced my mojo. My mind was positive and doing it’s best but somehow the merging of oneness had been lost. With hindsight it was probably an inevitable occurrence having had my fitness wane in the months prior to the race.
Still, I finished the first of 4 bike laps with the first group, minimizing the damage and enjoying mixing it up with some very strong cyclists on the many corners, hills, and accelerations of the downtown Des Moines course. However, slowly moving backwards in the race kept me from getting back in the zone. I worked hard, tried to get back in it and stayed positive while enjoying the experience but never got back to the level I hoped to achieve.
It took all my wisdom and experience to enjoy the rest of the race while knowing that it was actually an off day for me. Having an off day at the biggest event of your life is tough. But you also have to keep things in perspective. I still got off the bike with Macca, (Chris McCormick) the reigning Ironman World Champion. He ran his way into 10th place while I continued my slow march backwards.
I am a full time coach at the YMCA in Boise. It is rewarding work and I enjoy working with the community and playing my part to make Boise one of the best cities in the world. I love hard work but when it’s not focused on swimming, biking, or running and you are racing the best guys in the world that are focused only to that end…well, you have to keep it in perspective. Balancing family, work, and being a professional triathlete often leaves the tri training with the short stick. I believe that Kyle Leto and I are the only two guys with full time jobs on top of being a pro that raced in Hy-Vee.
Greg Bennett, the oldest guy in the field at 39 years young crushed the world and won over $166,000 for his 1 hour and 49 minute masterpiece. Bravo Greg! It’s impressive to see you hold back the clock for all of us.
Several of us exchanged the trisuits for some casual garb and took to the streets of Des Moines that evening. Many of us were still on a high from the fun race and we all enjoyed a little down time, if only for a few hours before many of the guys would get on planes and head to the next ‘big’ race. Greg kept all the glasses full and I’m sure this might have played a role too with everyone’s elevated spirits. I hope to be the one topping off the glasses at next year’s race.
Hy-Vee Triathlon 2011 Elite Results