The Importance of “The Back of the Pack”

Last weekend, my husband and I headed to Guelph, Ontario so that he could participate in the Guelph Tri II.  Now Hubs is not a hotshot tri-head; he likes to participate and he likes to have fun.  At this race, he made a last minute decision to do the Sprint course instead of the try-a-tri and his goal was to finish.  My job was to cheer him on.
We decided that while Dave was warming up and in the water, I should use the time for my own run.  I got back too late to see him head out on the bike, but I was there to cheer him back in – and I did loudly as he came in at the back of the pack, smiling through the transition area.  We expected that his run would be slow and it was but he crossed the finish line smiling, feeling good about himself.  Time didn’t matter; personal success did.  Goal accomplished.
This post is not about my husband’s success, though.  It is about the attitude towards new triathletes that was conveyed at the event (and, as such, this applies to new participants in duathlons, road-racing and trail racing).  I am referring to specifically to one conversation that Dave had with a man from a respected Ontario triathlon club who had the nerve to say “Some people just don’t belong here.”  It takes a lot for me to say nothing.  This time, I was speechless.
I was completely dumbfounded by this comment.  He had a medal around his neck for placing in his age group, but it’s quite likely that he didn’t always place.  Everyone has to start somewhere.  Yes, people may have been slow in the water, on the road or during the run but they were outside and moving.  They were doing something positive for themselves.  I’m pretty sure that it is safe to say that they didn’t just wake up in the morning and say, “Hmmm, I think I’ll race a triathlon today.”  They spent weeks, perhaps months, getting ready for it.  They set a fitness goal and would have had to follow a healthy lifestyle to achieve it. 
Secondly, have you ever considered that our tax dollars are being spent on smokers and other addicts who are supported by our health care system?   Some “newbies” were once a part of this group.  Some were also overweight and their cardiovascular health was at risk, again creating a burden on health care.  Slow?  Maybe.  But not belonging?  Absolutely, they do belong.  They are helping society; they are giving our government a few extra dollars to put towards medical research and development and towards those people who are suffering from tumours, cancer, Alzheimers and other illnesses.
We should also consider the economy of the triathlon.  When more and more people participate in the sport, products become more available to purchase and less expensive for everyone.  Wetsuits, for example, use to cost a small fortune.  Now they are cheaper and much easier to find.  The registration fee for a triathlon would be much higher if there weren’t as many participating (for example, think about the number of paid-duty officers needed and how much they have to be paid).  It is simple economics: the more participants there are, the overall cost of the event per participant decreases so the registration fee can stay lower. Putting on a triathlon puts money into the economy in other ways; jobs are created and money goes towards charities.  And, again, the more who participate, the more jobs and funding become available.  So why wouldn’t you want to encourage people to “try” a triathlon.
These athletes also show commitment, a valuable trait to possess.  Our society has hundreds of people who simply cannot stick with something that they started and that carries into other areas of their lives, such as jobs and relationships.  When someone makes a commitment to something like a triathlon (or training for another race), they are more likely to see successes in other aspects of their lives.
Lastly, when more people race, there are more likely to be awards which correspond to the numbers.  For example, bigger events will have 5-year age groups but small ones will only have 10-year age groups; I’ve even seen some with a 20 year spread.  So at the Guelph Lake Tri II, where there were lots and lots of participants, more were able to walk away with medals around their necks.  Sadly, the guy who had the nerve to say “They just don’t belong here”  was also wearing one; yes, he worked for it but the sheer numbers of people behind him gave him the chance to brag about his age group win at the office the following Monday.
Everyone has to start somewhere.  Think about your first race.  How did you compare to others then and where are you now?   Because you are answering this question, you realized that you do belong. Anyone who is willing to make the commitment – to do take on a new challenge, try something new and improve themselves – absolutely should be there.   There are so many benefits, whether it is from training, participating or racing, that it is a win-win. 

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