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The One Thing
Editorial by Tom Demerly.

Tom crosses bridge.

What can you count on? Really count on?

People often wonder why we do endurance sports. Triathlons, bike races, mountaineering, desert racing, adventure racing. There are as many reasons as there are people in the sport. But let me tell you one reason that will always be universally true for everyone:

You can always count on nature to treat you with indiscriminate ruthlessness.

Now, outwardly that might sound bad, but it isn't. It is fair, good actually. The Buddhists recognize this- the relationship between "good" and "bad", that they depend on one another, they are linked.
Let me explain. You can always count on this, without doubt:

You train all year for Ironman. That increases your chance of a better race. Does it guarantee it? Absolutely not. There are no guarantees. The event is indiscriminately ruthless. Look at Mark Allen and Paula Newby-Fraser. Awesome athletes. They were both champions and victims of Ironman. That is what I mean. It is indiscriminate. Your preparation substantially improves your capability commensurate with the time you put in, but it doesn't guarantee it.

You could have a flat tire (checking your equipment moderates this risk), you could crash, the weather could conspire against you. It is the same for everyone. It is ruthless and indiscriminate. That is what you can count on. And you can count on it to death. It will never change. What else can you count on? Not much.

At the 1999 Marathon Des Sables I had a religious experience. For those of you not familiar with it, the Marathon Des Sables is a 152 mile ultra distance running race across the Sahara Desert in Morocco. You do it over 6 days in stages ranging from 8 miles to 50 miles. It is self-sufficient. You carry your equipment on your back and navigate to checkpoints in the desert where you collect your water ration, usually 1.5 liters, or just enough to make it to the next checkpoint. Errors in navigation can result in dire consequences. No aid stations every mile, no sag wagons.

I can remember so vividly lying on a Bedouin rug in the desert, exhausted from the day's exertions, and feeling the heat rise from the desert sand as the night began to cool. The heat radiated through the rug and warmed my body, I took a handful of sand and let it run between my fingers and looked out across the vast, 4,500 mile Sahara. What a beautiful reality it was, utterly without compromise. And there was purity to that. Beautiful, reliable, perfect purity. Tomorrow in the Sahara it will be hot. The going will be tough. I will be challenged. Of that I am absolutely certain. But nothing else in this life is certain.

Our existence in human society is full of bizarre turns. People shoot each other for seemingly no reason in parking lots, you come home to find your wife in the hot tub with the guy next door, people break their promises, people who say they love you seem to only hurt you and people who say they hate you only make you more successful. Nothing surprises me anymore. As I sit here at 6:28 a.m. I can no more predict the outcome of today than I can fly to the moon.

But I can tell you this, when the flaming orb that is the sun rotates above the horizon in the Sahara tomorrow morning it will be hot. The sand will warm and at night it will give up its heat once again. I can tell you with certainty that at the 20-mile mark of an Ironman my legs will hurt with incredible purity.

You can't count on much. But you can count on that.