By Tom Demerly.
There are only two types of human contest: Racing and warfare.
Every conflict between men is either a subset
or amalgam of those two.
In the United States this Memorial Day Holiday
we commemorate those who gave their lives in the most grave
of human competitions, warfare. We celebrate their contributions
and sacrifices with the most noble of human competitions; racing.
From Charlotte, North Carolina to Indianapolis
to the gilded coast of Monaco and at every local 5K and 10K,
mini triathlon, bicycle race and diaper dash the world will
engage in contests of speed. If you are on this website reading
this you are among the ranks of the noble.
You may be doing the grueling DeSoto Triple T
stage race triathlon in Ohio- a race longer than Ironman on
difficult roads in unstable weather. You may be racing at the
Priority Health Tour de Leelanau, a 109.5 mile bicycle road
race through Michigan’s wine country. Or, like me, you
may be putting the final touches on racing fitness for one of
the many events a week or two away in a busy race season. You
may also be dealing with the nerves and doubts of confronting
your very first trip to a start line. You may be doing any one
of those things or some different version of them, but one thing
You are A Racer.
Standing here in the bike shop I hear some version
of this every day: “I am not trying to win… I am
not a racer.” You are lying.
Stop lying people. There is some kind of victory
out there and you are chasing it. It may not be getting to the
finish line first. It is likely something more subtle, something
more personal- but you are racing and in that very personal
sense you are most definitely a racer. Have the chutzpah
to own up to it. Despite your bashful excuses, your self deprecating
banter, you are a racer. Give yourself the credit and
hold your head high.
I understand why you tell yourself that you are
not trying to win, that you are just there casually participating
with no regard for the outcome. There is a social taboo against
excessive chest pounding and boasting. More significantly, if
we build ourselves up even a little we risk the nasty aftertaste
of humiliation from a less than splendid performance. So you
(and I…) play it safe and lie that you are not a racer.
This being the case, when you do cross that finish arch and
stop the clock I doubt you shrug off that finisher’s medal
or give away that hard fought T-shirt. No, you keep that stuff.
You earned it. You won it. You are A Racer. When you cross the
line, however sheepishly, you stop the clock. You look at the
results on-line Monday morning. Don’t lie. You do it,
I do it.
Welcome on board… racer. You wouldn’t
have toed the line if you didn’t want to be measured-
if you didn’t fancy yourself somehow measuring up.
The absolute toughest part of any racing is getting to the start
line. If you have done that or are preparing to do that you
earned and own the title: Racer. Take ownership of it.
The great cycling journalist Maynard Hershon referred
to joining the ranks of the racing community as “drawing
a warm blanket around our shoulders”. It’s a comforting
metaphor for an often brutish pursuit with a sometimes blurry
line between sport and war. People die racing, even in our sport.
Another reason we sometimes lie to ourselves that we aren’t
racers is because the fraternity of racing sports is a rough
and tumble one. Racing is hard. It’s filled with physical
pain, emotional anguish, behind-the-back trash talk and fragile,
inflamed egos. Perhaps if we lie that we aren’t racers
it somehow doesn’t hurt as much or we can avoid all the
drama. So, at the 20 mile mark of the run in your first Ironman
tell yourself you aren’t a racer and see if it makes your
knees hurt any less. Nope. You’re lying. It’s beastly
hard and by God, you my friend most certainly are A Racer. Your
knees will tell you so- you can’t lie to them.
While you are recoiling from nasty thoughts of
appearing foolish in your first triathlon or seeing your kneecaps
pop out of your legs during the run of your first Ironman I
will remind you of another reason to call yourself A Racer.
Racing is as beautiful as warfare is ugly.
Over the Memorial Day weekend one of the most
beautiful and opulent rituals of racing will take place, and
as Racers we should identify with its practitioners. The Monaco
Grand Prix is this Sunday. Even if you are estranged from auto
racing I urge you to get up early on Sunday morning, make yourself
a café aulait, put some rakish sunglasses on
your forehead and watch Monaco. I dare you to turn it off. Monaco
is the absolute epitome of human racing. There is the intellect
that goes into the technology, the daring and skill of the drivers,
the break-neck risk of speed and the pulse-pounding drama of
competition all overshadowed by the looming specter of calamity.
And, I want you to look at the men who contest Monaco. Not one
of these men will make excuses or tell you he is not A Racer.
They wear the title with the swagger and dashing bravado of
a knight. Sponsors pay millions for a spot on their collar or
their wrist because of this. It isn’t because of winning;
it is more because of trying to win. The hoopla that
surrounds these men is because they have the courage to say
“I am A Racer”.
We should all be so brave.
I guarantee you that despite appearances these
women and men racing at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, The
Monaco Formula 1 course and all over the world are susceptible
to the same doubts and frailties as you and I. They get nervous,
they get scared, they worry and they have doubts. We seldom
see them on the face of a Formula 1 driver who cuts a dashing
figure with supermodels on his arm and royalty queuing up for
a handshake with him. We don’t see nervous tension in
the eyes of Danica Patrick when waiting for the flag to fall
at Indy. We see composure, intensity and competence tempered
with caution and respect. In short, we see “cool”.
Perhaps that is another reason we aspire to join
the ranks of racers, despite what we may outwardly tell others.
We all want to be that cool.
Now that we’ve cleared up just exactly who
we are we can move on to what it is we do as racers.
Obvious as that seems it excludes a long list
of things we are inseparably attached to as humans. As humans
we fear. We fear loss, injury, embarrassment, pain. We even
fear the sensation of fear. Note that while racers are decidedly
human they seldom give even the shortest notion to fear. Instead
they are most occupied with getting on with the task of racing.
Look at those drivers at Monaco. Do any of them look afraid?
The speed limit on the roads through Monaco is about 25 M.P.H.
These men transit the course at an average speed of over
100 M.P.H. Curiously; there is not the slightest hint of
fear in their demeanor. I suggest that one of them is that once
you accept you are A Racer you tend to focus on exactly what
it is you are doing: Racing. Occupied as such you find you have
less time for fear and anxiety. If you focus on what you are
doing and how well you can do it, you won’t have time
to be afraid. It’s another good reason to take ownership
of the title: Racer.
If you own up to being a racer, I think you’ll
find your racing becomes somehow easier, more natural, less
tense. Once you realize you do belong at the party you feel
a good bit more like a debutant and a good bit less like a wallflower.
So, don’t try to tell me you aren’t
A Racer. You wouldn’t be on this page if you weren’t.
You would be on a golf, home improvement or knitting website.
You would be on a web page with pictures of pretty kittens but
you wouldn’t be on a website with discussions of how many
grams an aerodynamic helmet weighs or how a new carbon fiber
frame will benefit you on your next ride.
Take ownership of who you are, Racer,
and this weekend as we remember the terrible sacrifices of the
most repellant of human contests also take some time to revel
in the most beautiful of human contests, The Race.