We get a lot of different types of folks that come in the shop, just like any other bike shop. But we spend a fair amount of time noticing and discussing the differences between two types: road racers and triathletes.
It's an interesting discussion to me, because, to the rest of the world, there's almost no difference between the two groups: they're both endurance dorks that wear weird clothes. And that makes sense. But either group will be quick to point out the differences between their group and the other group. A lot has already been written and said on the subject, but one difference jumps out at me-butterflies.
I started thinking about it when my friend Lucas was telling me about an experience with his dad, Rusty. Lucas and Rusty have both done multiple long course triathlons, and Rusty has done something like ten. Lucas told a story about a race where he was at a race supporting his dad and not racing. He said that he was surprised that, after all of his experience, Rusty still exhibited all of the signs of pre-race jitters-on edge for a couple of days before, sweating the details to the point of being obsessive, multiple trips to the bathroom; etc. Lucas said that he would have thought that all of Rusty's previous races would have prepared him to the point where that phenomenon would subside.
That, to me, is the big difference between road racers and triathletes. Butterflies for an Ironman(or any triathlon) are big. You've been training for months-or sometimes a year, and it all comes down to one day. You've invested a tremendous amount of time and money. If something goes wrong, there's no do-over. It's all wasted. Regardless of how many times you do it, it's only natural that nerves are going to play a big part in the run-up into race day.
Road racing, on the other hand, plays out in a different way. You ride your bike and train all winter, but usually there is no one big goal. There are target races for sure, but in any one race there are so many variables that are uncontrollable that it doesn't make sense to hang everything on just one day. So most bike racers just shoot for being good at the start of the season. And, in bike racing, if you have a bad race, you usually only have to wait a few days before you get to race again and have a shot at redemption. If Saturday is a total mess, usually there is another race on Sunday. Or Wednesday. Or the following weekend. The result is smaller butterflies.
I read an interview once where Lance Armstrong was talking about one of the reasons why he decided to come back after retirement. He was at the start line of the Leadville 100 mile mountain bike race, and he was nervous because he wanted to win, and he was uncertain whether he could. He realized he missed that nervousness. Now...I think we can all agree that that comeback was one of the better examples of bad judgment in the history of the world, but the point about those pre-race jitters is interesting to me. As adults, we don't get that kind of nervousness too often. Job interviews, speaking in front of a bunch of people, that kind of thing. They're rare, because they represent a situation where we're trying to do something we're not sure we're capable of.
But endurance athletes-all of us dorks in weird clothes-are different. We have the opportunity to get nervous, because we challenge ourselves. We try to do things that are new, or that are longer or more difficult than what we've tried before-or against faster people. That's why we get nervous. That's why we get butterflies, big or small.
So I'm in favor of seeking butterflies. I think it's healthy to seek out the things that challenge us, that we know will make us nervous and maybe a bit on edge(and maybe make us take a few extra trips to the bathroom the day before).
It's January and there's snow on the ground. It's a perfect time to make big plans and think about what you're going to do this year. So maybe think about a challenge and start to plan for it. Maybe a marathon or an ultra, maybe an Ironman, or a century ride or a higher race category. Something that might be impossible, but you'll never know until you try.
Hunt those butterflies. We're looking forward to hearing about it.