Editor’s note: Jason Clark of Iowa City is a group exercise instructor at North Dodge Athletic Club and a participant in Eastern Iowa runs, duathlons and triathlons.
By Jason Clark, community contributor
I finally broke down and called myself a runner a several weeks ago with the impending loss of my first toenail after a race.
This got me thinking, when is it OK to start calling yourself a triathlete? After your first sprint triathlon? Your fifth? Maybe after your first Olympic distance race?
There is no hard and fast rule about when you can assume the title of triathlete. However, I do have a couple loose guidelines.
First, I won’t wear a race shirt until after I have completed the race. A couple of weeks ago, I ran in the Air Force Half Marathon and it seemed like half the runners were wearing their race shirts. It just seems to me that you have to earn it before you can flaunt it. Can you imagine getting 140.6 or the Mdot (the official Ironman logo) tattooed on your calf if you haven’t completed an Ironman?
Secondly, it’s not a race unless you are working hard. A leisurely stroll down the street for 3.1 miles while sharing a cigarette with your friends does not qualify as racing (I have seen that happen). I’m glad you are off the couch, but racing at its most basic is about pushing yourself beyond your previously set limits. Maybe walking 3.1 miles is the extent of what you can do right now. That’s OK. You have the right to say you’ve successfully completed a 5K — as long as the effort you put into that 5K walk was challenging.
LOOKING BACK, AHEAD
As the racing season begins to wind down, we can take a step back and examine our efforts this year. Whether you are an accomplished Ironman triathlete or a first-time sprint distance racer, your accomplishments this racing season hopefully loom large in your mind.
Even if you had a rough race or two, you should be able to take something positive away from each experience. Maybe you made it through the swim without freaking out or posted your best bike split ever. Sometimes even the simple things, like remembering to pack all of your gear, are wins when everything else goes to pot. No matter how the season went for you, now is the time to start thinking about next season and how you are going to improve.
It became plain to me after my 2012 season that running was my weak point. Quite frankly, I’m slow. So I determined I was going to work on my run specific fitness for the 2013 season.
One of the ways I did this was to sign up for races throughout the year and do more than just 5K fun runs. My increased efforts this year paid off. I am more fit and faster than I was last year.
The same principle is true for cycling and/or swimming. Make a goal that you will get in the pool at least six days a week for one month and see if that makes a difference in your swim fitness. Next spring, put on a wet suit and do some open water swimming as often as you can. It will increase your comfort level in the water thereby make you a better racer.
As the snow starts to fly in a few months, cycling becomes increasingly difficult. Instead, take a spin class at your local gym.
PAT ON BACK
While you contemplate your upcoming goals, it is important to remember first and foremost how truly amazing it is to be able to toe the starting line. We all too often get so wrapped up in our race statistics and training goals that we forget the reason we began racing in the first place.
At its core, racing is about the human spirit. The vast majority of people who race are doing so in an effort to prove to themselves that they can accomplish something great.
When people ask me about racing, I usually joke that I am not a competitor but rather a participant. That isn’t altogether true, however. I compete against myself every time I race. I always want to improve.
Although the majority of us will never post a top 3 finish, we should never stop trying to be the best we can be. The longer I race, the more inspired I get by the people racing with me. Although the winners are impressive, it is the people who populate the bottom half of the each age group that interest me most. Their stories are examples of people trying to make a difference in not only their lives but the lives of those around them. They are stories of people with average abilities doing extraordinary things.
At my last race, I saw a guy running in front of me that had on a shirt that read “DLF>DNF>>DNS.” It means “Dead Last Finish is greater than Did Not Finish which is much greater that Did Not Start.”
Never let a bad race or a bad day prevent you from racing again. No matter how slow you go, at least you are moving.
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