By Christopher Cudworth
You working people think you have it all figured out, making a living and all, and still finding time to run and ride. Well, God Bless You.
Knowing where your next paycheck is coming from is a normal, natural thing to want from life. That’s called security.
But if you really want to know what it’s like to be alive and live on the edge, try running and riding when things aren’t so secure. Become a Full Commitment athlete.
There was a time when runners would partner up like mice in the feed barn to live together, sharing costs of rent and food so they can train and race, full time.
It seems absurd to some. Yet it is still more common than you might think.
Even in today’s economy (or especially…) many a runner or cyclist learns to sleep on borrowed mattresses in strange towns in order to follow the racing circuit around the country.
Here’s a fact: takes a certain kind of guts to run and race when you’re unemployed or underemployed, chasing a dream of becoming the best you can be at your sport.
As a Full Commitment runner or rider, you quite literally put your life on hold for a while. A month. A year. Or more. Your family and friends question your motives. Only your training partners seem to understand. They see your improvement, watch as you get faster, move up in the pack, prepare for the Big Day.
No menial task
Some athletes trying to make their way in the competitive world either refuse to work or slave away at menial jobs that do not interfere with 100 mile weeks for runners or multiple 100-mile training days for cyclists.
You can’t really focus on much when you’re banging out those kind of miles. Maybe wash some dishes. Work as a janitor. Clerk in the back room of a law firm, where no one asks you questions, because you’re too tired to answer anyway.
Is romance dead?
Or are those romantic days of living for competition and training gone in this new economy—when the risks seem much higher, health insurance is almost required to survive and even menial jobs are hard to find because they’re already taken by people providing for their families?
It used to be almost noble to scrape along the bottom of the barrel of society when you were training for distance running or cycling. Friends might criticize your dumpy apartment, but they could not argue with your 10k PR. And that was acceptable to do for a year or two in your early life. Don’t worry about the future, except for the next big race.
A little bit of $ goes a long way
Athletes lucky enough to land some severance or a bit of family money when a great uncle died could really immerse themselves in training. Twice-daily workouts were commonplace. Then you’d show up for a 10k and there’d be 10 other raggedy looking characters, some in team running gear or sponsored kits, digging at the line to get started.
The conversation in the first miles could be pretty interesting among those full commitment pioneers.
“So, did you eat this week?”
“Yeah, mostly frozen waffles, green peas and Triscuits with cheese. But I feel pretty good. How about you?”
“Awesome. I’m living on Ramen noodles and French Toast. I’m starting to think that’s all I need. What was that first mile, 4:53?”
If that kind of lifestyle doesn’t sound romantic to you, then you simply aren’t cut out for the rigors and sacrifices of the Full Commitment Athlete. Somewhere out there today, there are runners and riders living that lowbrow life, trying to get better at what they like to do.
A true anecdote
One former Division III national champion in cross country took to working as a janitor the year before the Olympic Trials. He trained like a maniac, but never once mentioned to his “superiors” at the building where he did his janitor thing that he was anything special. It wasn’t until he led the first 10 laps of the Trials 5000 meters that some of them recognized his true talents.
That fellow faded to 5th or 6th place in the Trials, missing out on his chance to run in the Olympics.
Another true Full Commitment Athlete. Who got screwed.
A running club teammate trained almost a full year, working only enough to make ends meet, then ran in the Olympic trials marathon. His time was something like 2:19:20, and the qualifying time was 2:19:11. The Olympic committee would not give him a break.
I was never that good. But as a Full Commitment runner for a year, it was possible to achieve a few goals and close some motivational chapters in the athletic world by winning some choice races, training with runners better than me to try to reach that next level; national class for me. World class for some with whom I ran and raced.
Today’s crop of Full Commitment Athletes
The blogs from the younger cyclists on the pro side of the cycling club in which I ride often talk about the austere conditions in which they train and race. It’s no glamour sport at even the lower pro levels. You bust your butt sometimes, clinging to the front of the race for hours only to get dropped when the person directly in front of you in the peloton has a mechanical and forces you off the road with no choice but to stop, walk your bike around the mess and get back to pedaling. By then the breakaway is 200 meters ahead and there’s no chance of catching them. So you pedal in with dignity, but nothing to show for the long weeks of training, the long drives to the race and the exhausting attempt at staying “in the money.”
Back to reality. Impressing the hiring manager.
There isn’t even much glory in having turned a chunk of your life over to competitive riding or running. One would think that accomplishing something unique like a sub-31:00 10k might have some value in the work world. Then the hiring manager somehow digs into your interests, asking you about your running and riding with a big smile on their face, and a question: “I like to (run/ride) too, what’s your best (10K)?”
Some tiny fleck of fight or flight flickers through your brain, telling you not to answer that question honestly. Then you think about all those hours training alone, living on little income and even less food, and it wells up inside you that you should take pride in your athletic accomplishments. So you blurt out, “I was a pretty decent runner. My PR was a 2:26 marathon…”
The hiring manager’s expression goes flat. They’ve just spent the last year training like crazy with 65 other people in a Team In Training group and just barely managed to break 4 hours. They were so proud of that accomplishment. Now you’ve made them feel like stale turkey meat. The interview comes to a sudden close.
You don’t get the job. You’ll never know why, for sure. But you do have the sneaking suspicion that your hard-earned marathon time offended the hiring manager somehow.
In the end, the Full Commitment athlete really is better off keeping their mouth shut.
There really is no way to explain on your resume that you took a year off in your mid-20s to train full time and get as good as you could at running or riding.
Corporate hiring managers see that kind of commitment as a character flaw, not a credible reason to hire you. Others think you’re just a braggart for being honest. And that’s pretty ironic.
So even if you won half the races you entered during a year of two of Full Commitment running or riding, best keep that to yourself. The real, sane world out there does not understand. They really can’t understand. Or they won’t try to understand.
They simply refuse to understand that someone could go that nuts and be a Full Commitment athlete, training and racing with no income, no health insurance and no future except the next chance to compete to win.
And it’s too bad. Because Full Commitment people are loyal. They will often work hard for less, and never need cigarette breaks or dawdle too long over lunch. They’ll actually time how long it takes to make a delivery, write a whitepaper or complete some other assignment because deep down inside, the Full Commitment athlete is still a competitor and always will be.
You should hire one sometime. You’ll be pleasantly surprised. And you’ll probably never have to buy them lunch. They’ll be out running or riding instead.