70 miles is a long distance. Most people are reluctant to drive that far unless there’s a very good reason, so it’s wild that there are people who willingly swim, bike, and run that far. It’s physically demanding, requiring tons of training and preparation, which is why most people start training for it months in advance. Hours a day spent swimming, biking, or running, with very few rest days in between, so your weekdays quickly start revolving around your workouts, foregoing dinner with friends for a brick ride and run. Pretty soon you find yourself more concerned with having clean workout clothes than having clothes to go out in! Not gonna lie, it’s a huge time suck.
But that’s just the distance, the low hanging fruit. Lost in all the training, the talk, the preparations, are the aspects of these races that really push them over the edge. The things that take them from just “races” to something else: the course, and the mental game.
The “course” is multi-faceted. There’s the actual terrain you have to traverse: the water, the hills, the corners, the road conditions, the chop. There’s the stuff that could be “sharing” the course with you: traffic, be it from other competitors or from vehicles on the road or in the water, wildlife, spectators, and so on. And then there’s old Mother Nature, with all her lovable un-predictableness. A week out the forecast could be perfect, then you show up on race day to sheets of sideways rain. You can prepare yourself for the terrain, study the course maps, and even pre-swim/ride/run parts of the course, but it’s difficult, if not impossible, to account for all the variables the course throws at you. A difficult course can turn a well prepared athlete inside out and wreck their mental state, and even on an “easy” course, with so much distance to cover, there’s no telling what will go wrong.
Then there’s what’s going on in your head. There’s a bunch of evidence that suggests we humans were built for long distance endurance activity, muscles and tendons in our legs act as springs, storing and releasing energy as we run, our lungs are situated in a way so we can breathe deeply regardless of how fast we’re moving, our brains pump out endorphins so we feel rewarded as we go, the list goes on… but there’s a limit. There’s a point where you switch from having an enjoyable workout to your brain freaking out, wondering what the hell is going on. When it starts telling you, no, SCREAMING at you to stop, and setting off every alarm bell it can. When it’s magnifying every ache, every pain, every labored breath a thousand times over and using it as fuel to talk you into quitting. Many people never start the race because panic sets in before they even get in the water, and many more never finish because of the toll it takes not only on your body, but on your mind. It’s brutal, and it’s a significant reason why these races are so difficult… and honestly, so addicting. When it’s over, and the panic centers of your brain realize everything is ok, the most miserable day of your life quickly becomes one of the most rewarding.
It really takes a special kind of crazy to want to do these races… so allow me to introduce myself. I’m Joel, and apparently I’m a nutjob.