Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Bawdy Ink and Allegory.

I remember when I first embarked upon this TRIron-journey. The first question non-triathletes asked me, after "how far?" and "are you flippin' nuts?", was "are you going to get the tattoo?".

Now that was something everyone could understand. A tattoo. A permanent mark both recognizing and advertising the accomplishment. A brand...well, actually not a brand at all, more like a badge of honour. Branding is an entirely different kink.

I don't mean any sarcasm or misplaced witt in my words. The desire to celebrate an accomplishment is reasonable and justified. And I respect that. How one does it is a very personal and meaningful commitment to themselves or to those around them. Tattoos have a lot of history under them both personal and anthropological, other than those that are in some Asian script that actually spells "that ain't chicken".

So before I completed my first Ironman. My head was a-buzz with the merits of getting the M-dot. For all you noobs, that's what the call that M with a dot over it. It is actually a trademarked symbol. Its use in most of the media is somewhat strictly regulated - although not as much as the Olympics and their logo - but that "society" has a budget that rivals the Vatican.

I even recall some talk of tattoos with the M-dot having to have the Registered mark on them...but you can't believe everything you read, especially not online.

If you haven't figured it out just yet, symbols are just as important as words to me. And while I completely respect anyone's use of a now very commercial symbol on their body, I could not justify doing likewise. At least not without investing some additional meaning to it.

So on the advice of some very good friends and others who have seen me without clothes on, I came upon a design that included the M-dot, but was based on the stylized imagery of the individual events and my struggle to find proficiency. (still haven't found it by the way.) In addition, I also chose this to be a canvas in progress. Filling in the M-dots as I completed up to three Ironman races.

I found this to be the perfect marriage of making use of meaningful symbols and a nod to a recognizable, commercial entity, Ironman.

I was happy with the results a little anklet-like tattoo with swim bike run, one filled-in M-dot and two unfilled ones. The idea being that the unfilled ones would get filled as I completed more Ironman races.

Now I'm at two completed with another scheduled a few month hence. I haven't bothered to go "fill in" #2. Is it laziness? Fear of Hepatitis? Or do I just not want to stay away from swimming for a week or two for the expected crust to heal.

I think it goes deeper than the ink. It is the understanding of the finality of things. By completing this trio of ink it signals that I will be done. It will be over. Filling in #2 means #3 will need to be done soon too - if I ever complete the IMC in August.

Then what? More races...Silverman? Something more extreme?  Eating at KFC? More tattoos? Do I stop racing? Do I switch to branding or piercing? Or do I just suck it up and stop thinking about things so much.

Well. If I find a two week lull in my swim training, which I doubt, I might fill in #2...If not,  I will get it filled in after the race. Easy decision.

What about #3. Will I get that filled in then too?

Well, I know that I have acres of extra real estate on my body - even the small tracts that are unforested. But I don't really have any compulsion to get more ink, at least not of the iron variety.

So I'm seriously thinking of leaving one space unfinished...a hint that there will always be one more race. This could be my incentive to keep the spirit and soul of this lifestyle alive.

In some ways, it is a bit like the birthmark in  Nathaniel Hawthorne's story. Only in reverse. Adding it will foreshadow the end.

So who would have thunk that getting some ink in your body would end up being allegorical. Interesting things happen to one's body and mind when we are pushed to our limits.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Volunteering and race karma

Let me just state for the record that I believe in race karma.

I know, I know, sources very close to me will argue until they are blue in the face that it is all coincidence, that if you roll a six,  you will not change your odds for the next roll.

But if you have been following this blog through its presumptuous, circuitous meanderings over the past couple of months, you will appreciate that I believe that everything one does to prepare for a race will make a difference (good or bad) on race day.

I know, I know there is always the unplanned for, unpredictable fluke of luck or misfortune. But you can prepare for that by working on dealing with improvisation. Not theatre sports. Rather,  knowing how to take a breath;  evaluating the crisis and seeing how and if you can proceed and not end your day many miles before the finish line.

This is where the volunteering comes in.

When you volunteer for a race, or for a club, you are doing something that could, potentially, make you feel good - unless you are doing it to spite someone - but spite turns some people on, so whatever turns your Dura ace 7800.

By volunteering, you are making it possible for people that you may not even know to participate in something that scares, thrills or challenges them and that can, potentially, change their lives.

All this for showing up, hanging around and then having some stale donuts and cold coffee.

I know some of these volunteers. They don't race. But they show up, event after event and participate in their own way. They make the event possible for countless others and make future events possible just by contributing to the events' success.

Volunteering can also prepare you for a race though.

When you show up and set up a race and help racers and take down the race, you see some incredible things. Well, you also discover why public nudity should be enforced better at races, at least!

You can also see where racers make mistakes how they fix them, if they can, and how the MOP and BOPs get through the challenge. You will also see how the truly graceful  Front Of Pack racers have refined their skills so that it sometimes seems that they are not even racing at all, but just enjoying themselves.

You see this as a volunteer. If you learn from this it becomes part of your race prep.When you learn from this participation, your databank grows to way beyond your own race experience. It begins to include the experiences of all those around you. You can't get that from a book! Well, maybe you can, but it would have to be a really thick book, with lots of pictures and a bibliography.

The past few weeks have been a tough for being a volunteer. This is work in the trenches. Doing stuff that no one will notice, unless it doesn't go well, then everybody will notice. And stuff didn't go well. Curse you Interweb!

It has not involved setting up the race, but ensuring that everyone knows what is going on, where to register, how to pay, and all the administrivia that most only have to deal with once per race.

But I learned stuff. Through the comments and the complaints and the perseverance of those around me, working equally hard to get the races ready for the racers, I took multitasking to a new level. I learned how to dump my computer's cache, I learned what it feels like to miss a couple of training days in a row. I learned a few more choice swear words in txt messaging.

Most of all, I learned how to just get the job done. And I did get my job done.

And that is no different than on race day. You have to get from Point A to Point B (there could be many points if this is one of those new fangled point to point races, so don't nitpick!).

There will be obstacles in your way. Snow, cold, wind, waves flats, bonks, crashes, hills, blisters...the list is practically endless. You just need to HTFU and get it done, even if getting it done means cutting your losses and planning for the next race.

So. In a few days,  I will race in a local, minor, insignificant,  "C" race. This race always kicks my ass. But you can bet, I'll be there volunteering and setting up just before I set up my transition.

Why? Because volunteers helped make this race happen again this year. And if I want to have it kick my ass again next year, I'd better do everything I can do to make it a success.

I have no illusions about my athletic aspirations. I'm a Middle Of Pack kinda guy. I won't win and I don't need to win, but I do need to race.  Race karma doesn't care how or where I place. But I won't even have a chance to use my race karma if there is no race. So I volunteer and I increase race karma and I learn from race to race, regardless of whether I'm wearing the race bib or handing it out.