road bike on stand, the front room
Biked on the stand while watching ASICS Running: Beat the Sun. It’s a crazy endurance race in France where 5 teams of runners run for 150 km and scale a huge mountain. They’re not so much racing each other as they are the sun; they have almost 16 hours–the amount of daylight on the longest day of the year–to complete the race. The race is broken up into 13 segments, with 5 of the 6 team members running 2 segments and 1 member running 3. Each team has 3 pros and 3 amateurs. 10,000 runners competed for the 15 amateur spots.
I love watching shows like this, especially when they’re mostly about the actual race instead of dramatic conflicts between team members or highly polished and annoyingly clichéd personal interest stories. An occasional story sprinkled in is okay, but not at the expense of the race.
Perhaps my one exception to this rule is NBC’s coverage of the Kona Ironman. I love all those sappy stories about the athletes.
Sappy Kona Stories, a list
- the widow of a gulf war vet who races in his memory
- the 70 something nun who comes back every year to battle the trade winds on the bike portion–the winds that once threw her right off her bike, forcing her to withdraw
- the middle-aged man who uses the motivation of competing at Kona to recover from a debilitating stroke
- the pro racer who placed 5th the year before but then had a training accident and was paralyzed, coming back to race in his wheelchair
- the octogenarian doctor who desperately wants to (and spoiler: does) beat the cut-off time of midnight so that he can officially claim that “I am an Ironman!”
- the father and son team racing together, with the father dragging the son in a raft during the swim portion because the son has cerebral palsy
- the former race volunteer who wants to see what Ali’i drive and the finish line look like from the other side.
I don’t care that these stories seem designed to get me to cry and that my connection to them might be more orchestrated than authentic, I love them anyway.
But, getting back to the Beat the Sun race. I’m about halfway done with the show. It’s almost all about the actual race. Only one brief mention of how one of the runners decided to come and race even though his wife had just died. I’m learning about the climbs in elevation, the pace of each runner, the terrain, the difficulty of the altitude, GI distress. No sappy feel good moments to move me or make me cry. Yet, there’s a moment in the show that made me feel something deeper than I’ve ever felt in the dozen or so KONA videos I’ve watched. A little over 19 minutes in, the camera focuses on a runner who has just finished his grueling segment. He’s wheezing and having trouble breathing. We watch him wheeze for 10 seconds, which seems like a long time. Finally, he recovers. He walks off and calls out “I need a hug.” I’ve wheezed like that after a race. I know how it feels to not be able to breathe, to panic, worrying that you might pass out. I hate that feeling. I’ve watched the clip several times now and every time, I feel my throat closing up.
I don’t have a neat conclusion to offer to this entry, but I feel like I’m getting at something bigger with my discussion of sappy stories, personal narratives, feel-good moments and orchestrated versus authentic. Part of what this run! story project is about is experimenting with how to authentically communicate my experiences training and running. How do I express what it feels like to be running in a way that moves others and/or enables them to understand who I am in all my complexity, beyond the trite clichés of “the runner” and the formulaic running stories and race reports?