Sunday, June 26, 2011

Commitment Issues

The Nature of Science
For those of you who remember high school science class, you were probably taught some form of the scientific method. You see something, ask a question, make a hypothesis, and test your hypothesis. Should the hypothesis hold true, sadly, you are not finished. You must test it over and over. And then after all that testing, you need to have it peer reviewed. You send your hypothesis out to smart, like-minded individuals whose responsibility is to pour over it with a fine-toothed comb looking for holes in your ideology. If your hypothesis survives that scrutiny, congratulations. If at any time your hypothesis fails, you must revise the hypothesis or chalk it up.

The Hypothesis
So, enter Tattoo-guy. He claims that he is into the sport just for the tattoo.  Granted, I firmly doubt this is the case. It's akin to saying you bought a Ferrari just because you like the color red. Absurd. But, it did get me to thinking about levels of commitment in the sport, or any sport, for that matter. Therefore, I'd like to make a few clarifications and a hypothesis revision.

Please be advised that my post was never about him or his tattoo. I fully respect/ celebrate his involvement and remember when I was in his shoes. The first year I did the Ironman, I was in it to finish. I had listed my goals for this race as: 1) Make it to the starting line. 2) Complete the race without dying. 3) Have fun the entire way along the journey. Even then, I knew I was not competing. Hell, I didn't know if I would ever want to do another one. I was participating and loving it.

On the journey, something happened. I liked it. I liked it a lot. I thought to myself, 'This is fun!' I am going to do it again. But now, I want to get good. The Ironman has a carrot jingled out in front of me now. It's a carrot called "Kona." There are essentially 2 ways to get into the race (ok, there are others, but only 2 that apply to me). The first is to earn a spot by qualifying and being good in the race. The second is to apply for the lottery, in which they give you a slot without needing to qualify.

In a nutshell, I want to qualify and not win the lottery. I may decide, one day, to do the lottery thing. But right now, I think I can qualify. But to do so would take a level of commitment that I have not shown in the past (including this year). When I sit back and ponder my chances of qualifying this year, I realize that they are slim to bleak. I haven't committed to the necessary training required to meet the goal. But, I did have a successful year in my relationship with my wife, a successful school year wrought with overwhelming success of my students, and improved relationships with my extended family, friends, and colleagues. Therefore, my lack of commitment is validated.

The tattoo-guy reminded me of my level of focus in the sport years ago. As thoughts spiraled as they do when you are out training for hours with nothing but your brain to keep you entertained, I formulated that there is a difference in commitment between someone who is committed to the sport versus someone who is in it just for the mere joy of being in it, which I termed 'participant'. That is not to say that one of these people is any better that another. By no means, NO! This is not a status symbol for me.

But, I do recognize a difference in my mind set. Even without qualifying for Kona, I feel like I have changed from 'doing' an Ironman to 'becoming' an Ironman. It is no longer a race that I participated in. You don't magically become an Ironman just by crossing the line. You become one when you make the commitment to the sport. The same goes for any other sport. When you commit, you become.

Long distance triathlon is now a lifestyle which I do not see ending in the foreseeable future. I have every intention of doing it again many times over. This is much different, to me, than the 2006 Banter who did the race just because it was there. Am I a better person/ athlete now than I was back then? Nope. Just different. Upon acknowledging this change about myself, I formulated the hypothesis that there is something different between an athlete who participates versus an athlete who lives the lifestyle.

The Experiment
These things are ever difficult to assess. But, peer review is quite easy, especially in this digital day. First, I wrote about it in the blog. Second, I sent my hypothesis/ opinion over to a triathlon discussion forum called Slotwitch. ST, in my opinion, is full of triathlon geniuses. If ever you want learn something even close to triathlon, you can find it there. But, tread carefully as they are ruthless.

I got blasted. You can read it here, but keep in mind, it's not pretty. Granted, there were some who agreed with my stance but we were in the minority.  I am not upset with the opinions of those against mine. Quite the opposite, I am grateful. Their opinions, and yours, are the reasons I wrote about it. I was curious and wanted my hypothesis tested. That's how we learn and grow. There were some really strong emotions involved, which are ever hard to argue. It was mostly my fault, I agree, in that I don't think I was fully clear in what I was trying to convey. Regardless, the feedback has helped me change my thought process on the matter.

Just to be clear, in the grand scheme of things, this hypothesis or opinion means exactly nothing. I just find it interesting to think about and I like sharing/ discussing interesting thoughts. It is tough to avoid when you share an opinion or make a stance, but my intent is not meant to belittle or insult anyone. This is not meant to be a hierarchy of people who are better or worse. It's more like, 'where do I stand in terms of meeting my goals?' In reality, the hypothesis is mostly about me and my level of commitment to sport/ family/ life, etc.

For 1, I recognize that all 'participants' are athletes. This was a mistake I made before and apologize to anyone who was offended. For 2, I recognize that no one person is any better that any other person on the spectrum. I like all involved. For 3, I feel that if I am to meet my Kona dreams, I need to be higher up on the spectrum.

As a teacher, we are trained and encouraged to do this sort of thing, present information graphically. The pyramid represents the amount of time and commitment one puts into training (keeping in mind that recovering from training is still training to me). The higher up on the pyramid, more time and commitment is given to the sport.

At the top are the pros. They make a living in the sport and dedicate the most time and energy. Still, I bet some pros put in more time/ energy than others. I also bet that there are some non-pros who belong in this area as well. Not only is the sport a habit, but it may also be a source of income. They represent the smallest number of athletes in the sport.

In the middle are those who are competing. They may be competing against themselves or against the field. Training and improvement are important to them. They may hire coaches and analyze data. These athletes may have a different definition of fun, such as winning or beating goal times. However, they have other commitments as well. Family, friends, career, etc. can and will take away training time. Not that this is a bad thing.

On the bottom of the pyramid are those who are out there just for fun or the experience. They are the foundation, highest in numbers, and possibly the most important athletes in the spectrum. They won't stress one way or another about placement or time. They may not think deep thoughts about their next race. When I see them at races, they always have a smile on their face and are some of the best athletes to hang out with before the gun goes off.

I would place myself as a number 5 athlete on this spectrum. I have time goals and pace goals. When a race approaches, I want to win it (even though I know I won't). I look at the meaningless numbers from my Garmin and the race results page looking for ways to improve. However, I am prone to allow things like cold weather, not waking up in the morning, state testing, or overall pansiness get in the way of my training. The goal is important to me but not at the sacrifice of other stuff higher on my priority list. I anticipate that, if I want to qualify for Kona, I need to become a level 6 or 7. Not there yet.

So I ask you, dear reader, how is my revised hypothesis? What am I missing or not anticipate? I am interested in this topic, mostly for academic purposes and less for anything important. Where do you stand?

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