Many people, upon hearing the desire of someone to complete a marathon, respond with a polite, "Wow, I could never do that." When the topic of Ironman triathlons is mentioned, the comments more often reflect the questionable state of mental health of the individual declaring that goal. Yet most endurance athletes find such remarks somewhat humorous.
Because they are comments many of us were prone to making ourselves, in the past. A few short years ago, my response to the subject of running would have been, "Runners get hit by busses." Triathlon, while a cool sport, was for the ultra-fit athlete with zero percent body fat. Normal people would most likely drown attempting such a feat. There was "no way" I could ever compete in endurance events, especially long distance events.
Oddly enough, the biggest roadblock to participating in triathlons or running races is ourselves. And I don't mean in a physical sense. Most of us are more than healthy enough to begin training. And there are way too many examples of challenged athletes competing at the pinnacle of endurance sports. No, the roadblock is far less substantial than a missing limb or dire health concern. It is purely psychological.
It's probably preaching to the choir, but the hardest part of running any endurance event is making the decision to do so. Let's face it, when we are contemplating that next bigger race, signing up is half the battle. The training might be tough, as can the race. But the decision is the hardest part.
Think back to the decision to get involved in endurance sports. For most of us, it wasn't so much a decision as a long, drawn out process. We agonizingly decided to start running, "for our health." Then, we thought that perhaps we'd do a short walk/run for charity. Making the jump to a longer race, such as a 10K or a half-marathon took lots of time, lots of outside motivation, and lots of overcoming fear and trepidation. After signing up, the gremlins set to work immediately, trying to make us question our decision and our ability to succeed.
There is a silver lining, though. It is quite common to see this attitude overcome. My co-worker/training partner (who is in dire need of a name) was discussing his training and race plans, and commented that he did an hour long spin class and decided to follow it up by running 10K. That surprised even him, because it was only 18 months back that he refused to even try and run a 10K race unless someone paid his entry fee. Now, he has completed the 10K race, a sprint triathlon, and a half-marathon.
He is running a half-IM tri with me in 2007, and is considering a marathon. This from the guy who questioned the desire to run, much less race, any distance at all. Attitudes change. Sometimes the most unlikely person becomes the best training partner. Sometimes hidden talents reveal themselves as people try new things and stars are born.
So when people cast the odd sidelong glance about your desire to participate in endurance sports, help them to see the path you took to get there. Reassure them that being a runner doesn't have to mean 26.2 miles any more than being a triathlete means completing 140.6 miles. If those become long term goals, great. If not, there is an entire world of races that take far less time, energy, and committment. And for many, those are the best races to consider.
Who knows. They may one day find themselves being asked the same questions they ask now.