Season Theme Songs and Frienemies
Whether you are looking to get back at it after off-season, looking for some motivation to get out of the house in the morning to do your workouts, or just trying to shake off some pre-race anxiety, having a motivational song that serves as your theme for the upcoming season and identifying some friends with whom you are looking forward to race against is a great way to help you along.
When closing in on the finish line in Kona, after making the right turn off Hualalai, one runs northbound on Ali'i Drive for about a 1/2 mile which goes under the banyan tree and to the finishing chute. If it is after sunset, is nearly pitch black and eerily quiet relative to the crowds and cheering throughout the day. What stands out about finishing at that time is that, as one peers forward into the darkness, what emerges in front of you, is a doorway into tons of light and you start to hear a screaming crowd that is awaiting your arrival. Personally, as I meandered down Ali’i Drive just after dusk, I spent some time reflecting on all the past races, training (along with the associated suffering) that went into finally qualifying to be racing there, and all the people I have trained with throughout the journey. Those memories coupled with the physical exhaustion from the race day itself, i.e., the winds, heat, and humidity (often leaving one questioning whether you can make it to the finish line at all) provided a backdrop to a surreal moment as I ran along to that one finish line I have always wanted to cross. I began to sing in my head parts of all the “Season Theme Songs” that I have picked over the past decade and thinking about the associated racing that I have done. Kona, I felt, deserved its own theme song, and "Unity" by Shinedown was the one I chose. For that moment, it had some very fitting lyrics. That doorway of light paired with that song was the perfect ending to a truly long journey:
"I've been looking for you day and night. Shine a light in the dark.
Let me see where you are. 'Cause I'm not gonna leave you behind.
If I told you that you're not alone, and I show you this is where you belong."
Then, just before I entered the finishing chute, after I got my hugs from my wife and son, I told them I had to go as I had to finish this race and cross that finish line that I so dreamt about after 11 IronMan races and 1,546.5 iron miles of racing to that point. Then, as I closed out that final 1/10 mile, the final verse popped in my head: "Put your hands in the air. One more time."
Triathletes know that racing is hard and the training can be very lonely at times. Although training is often done with friends and/or members of a triathlon club and you are racing with hundreds to thousands of people, in the end, it is the individual who is physically and mentally battling with themselves to keep moving forward. Between the endless miles of training and the intensity of the race day, it always helps to have some additional motivation to turn to either get fired up for the day and/or reignite the flames when motivation is lagging. Two things that can help you are: “Season Theme Songs” and “Frienemies”.
Season Theme Songs
We have all been near the end of a running workout, listening to some motivating song, and envisioning closing in on a competitor to beat them to the finish line. In my case, during my Kona qualifying race, this was exactly how it played out. With about 6 miles left, the wheels started falling off and I started to see my long sought-after Kona slot slipping away as I had a competitor who was right on my heels. After a short conversation with a woman I had gone back-and-forth with on the run who, after I shared my situation, told me to focus on my race instead of someone else’s helped me to snap out of my funk. I mentally queued up my Theme Song for that Season, “Don’t Stop Me Now” by Queen, started singing it over and over in my head, then picked up my pace and finished the last few miles as strongly as I could. In the end, that little jolt of adrenaline helped me to hold my position in the race and qualified for Kona by a mere 3 seconds.
There is always that one particular song that we use as our “go-to” song that helps us get started as we ramp up for the season and carries us through the year. It is that that one song that seems to stick out more than the others and you turn to when doing your pre-race bikes and runs around the course during the days leading up to the race, what you listen to as you walk to Transition or working to get your Transition area setup, what you listen to when you need to dip deep to finish out a long workout or get the extra boost to finish up a tough interval. That song should be your “Theme Song” for the race season. Unlike running races where you have your music with you, music is not allowed when racing triathlon. Triathletes are, in effect, left alone with their own thoughts intertwined with the realization that they are either passing people and having an awesome day, or conversely, falling apart and being swallowed up by the field as they slog along to the finish line. Regardless of the situation you find yourself in, there is nothing like leveraging your motivational song to mentally build your own music video to help you push through and further enjoy the experience. Therefore, why not make THAT song serve as YOUR personal theme song for that year. Remember the tune and the words and, when you need it, mentally turn it on in your head and help keep you moving throughout your day. Then, over time, as you accumulate annual theme songs, you suddenly have an awesome playlist that you can leverage when you need it.
I coached my middle school son’s Cross-Country Team. In an effort to get the kids to start pushing each other at practices and pacing each other to help stay motivated at races, the coaches and I covertly introduced them to the concept of frienemies by breaking them up into smaller groups who ran similar paces. At the Championship race, I got them all together and asked them to think about who they have been training with and work to stay with them throughout the race. Then, individually, to help break the pre-race tension, made them think about forgetting about everything around them and just racing against their friend they have been running with at practice. I was able to see the kids at multiple points throughout the race and found they were running together with the kids they’d been practicing with, but then I noticed that, as the kids took a 90-degree left hand turn to being their final push to the finish-line, every one of them took a quick glance over their left shoulder. What were they doing? It dawned on me that they all had created healthy rivalries with their friends, that is, their frienemy, and were looking to see where they were on the course. As a result, they were all pushing each other to achieve goals beyond their own expectations as everyone was running personal bests and finishing higher than expected overall in the field.
So, what is a frienemy? A frienemy is a person in your age group with whom you frequently cross paths at races or training buddies with whom beating out at races just adds to the fun. In short, intense competitors throughout the race and someone to have a post-race drink or meal to recap the day.
A whole new level of enjoyment can be added to races when you start paying attention to those in your age group with whom you are competing. After several races in the same general locale, one starts to see the same people over again, so, why not say “Hello” at some point during the day as, apparently, they have a common interest. Personally, while at the gym one day, I saw a person who I realized we had raced against each other three times that season and found out he lived in my town. As I was new to the area, that short conversation led to him introducing me to the local bike group and a couple years later, him, me, and two other guys were standing up a local tri club.
How difficult is it to say “Hi” to folks you are racking next to in Transition? For me, at one 70.3 race, I chatted briefly while racking my bike with the guy next to me who ended up going back and forth with me on the bike course, then come to find out, we were racing an IronMan together a month later and both were travelling solo so we had our pre-race dinner together.
How about having a short conversation with folks on the bike course with whom you are going back and forth with? At one race, my aero bottle accidentally flew off as I passed a guy and as we went back and forth joked about how I tried to take him out in order to win. By sheer coincidence, the next race, a month later, the guy I was going back and forth with on the bike was him. Instant friends.
Or catching up with someone that you have run a portion of the run course with after you have crossed the finish line. This one happens all the time as there is nothing like getting your mind off the pain by any type of interaction with someone on the course that you have seen throughout the race.
Then, afterwards, once you get home, you find that you have a new Strava and/or social media friend.
Those folks who you get to know, i.e., your new frienemy, allows you to add a whole other level of enjoyment to your race day by creating a “race within the race” or reaching out to them during off-season to look into synching up your race calendars so you have another thing to motivate you to get that extra workout in or push a little harder on an interval. Whether you are battling with them for an age group podium slot or simply battling them for your personal podium, nothing can be more exciting!
Triathlon is a spectacular sport that allows you to stay fit and reach for the goals you set for yourself. However, we all need ways to get motivated and picking a Season Theme Song and identifying some Frienemies are two simple ways to bring more enjoyment to the wonderful sport of ours.