This time of year it is inevitable to think back on the months of June, July and August and ask yourself, “Did I have a good summer?”
So I’m going to offer up a little perspective to help you think about your summer, and indeed your life in general. We’d love to hear about things you did that you really enjoyed.
As for me, here’s a little operative in which I believe when assessing your life. I always look for opportunities to have what I call “peak experiences.” These are events or moments that cause you to live tremendously in the moment. That’s not always an easy thing to do. Being so busy all the time can cause you to just roll through everything you’re doing. That can include something so profound as riding a Century or even racing a triathlon.
We don’t have peak experiences when our minds are so distracted by the import of life that we cannot focus on what we’re doing in the moment. As a result, you can finish a run or a ride or a swim and hardly know you just did it.
But there were wonderful exceptions to this habit of mine (anyway.) I’ll share because they serve as allegories for peak experiences all on their own.
The Peak Experience of SHARED TRAINING
This year has been an interesting year in a significant way. We started out with a trip to Great Britain where a training run took us on the banks of the Thames in Oxford and through the heart of London. We had to stop at times and just consider what we were doing. The birds singing in the hedgerows. The Tower of London across the river. The bustle of people heading to work in the financial district of London. We took a risk, spent some money and had a peak experience for the first time overseas for both of us. And that was a great way to transition from spring to summer.
But then our attention turned to a task at hand. Doing large chunks of training with my girlfriend Sue in preparation for her Ironman on September 13 has stretched us both in several directions. My runs have gotten longer and some rides too. That culminated in runs of an hour or more, a significant change for a guy that had been keeping it to half an hour or less for years. The peak was a 2-hour run with Sue that led up the Fox River Trail and back. It was almost strange to be running pain-free for so long. Granted, my hip flexors got tired toward the end, and that hurts a little. But a few trips to the gym fixed that problem.
It’s a peak experience to be running longer, and faster. Our track training has pushed me back down to 6:00 pace and below in training. That opens up some interesting ideas in both road racing and in the triathlon.
The Peak Experience of the GALENA DUATHLON
Galena is situated in a hilly region of northwest Illinois. Racing a duathlon in that area means that you have to adjust all kinds of expectations. For my first duathlon of the year, and second in my life, there were other logistical problems. The Galena race does not start and stop in the same place. That meant planning to use my dress orthotics in the first pair of running shoes, jumping on the bike to ride nearly 20 miles on a hilly (wet) course west to Galena, and throwing on my actual shoes with orthotics in them. The course went straight uphill for nearly half a mile. That was a peak experience indeed. Talk about in the moment soul-searching.
But I set aside such anxieties and raced well enough to place 8th overall and win my age division. And that was a peak experience.
The Peak Experience of HORRIBLY HILLY
A few years back a friend and I entered the lottery to get spots in the Horribly Hilly 100, a highly respected event held in the Mt. Horeb area of Wisconsin. Having ridden several times in the Wright Stuff Century the loops from Mt. Horeb to Spring Green, I knew some of those roads and that the climbs could be difficult.
The trepidation was somewhat real, therefore, that this would be a difficult ride. And it did not help that on the way down the first hill, my front tire flatted at the same point that some enthusiastic rider had gone too fast and pitched into the ditch. An air-vac helicopter was hovering above the course and paramedics were attending to the rider.
It all brought to mind my own crash during the Wright Stuff in 2013. There I broke my collarbone after bike wobble sent me careening to the ditch at 40mph.
Once the flat was fixed I gingerly braked down the half mile of the whole first hill.
And from there, things got better. All day my legs felt strong and the climbs went well. Some topped out at 18-degree grades, and they were tough. People on tri-bikes had trouble getting that geometry up the steepest hills.
The peak experience came on the last long climb. It was 1200 vertical feet to the finish. There were people lining the course cheering as rider after rider crept up that hill. It had rained and the wind had blown. The sun came out for a brief moment near the end however, and we all smiled at the fact that we’d ridden a tough training ride that was its own reward. But we had frozen chocolate custard anyway. And that capped off a peak experience.
The Peak Experience of the IRONMAN WISCONSIN LOOP
Following the ride in the Horribly Hilly 100 we returned to Wisconsin on a few separate weekends to ride the “stick” and the “loop” portions of the Ironman bike course so that Sue could prepare both physically and mentally for the fall race.
Coming off the Horribly Hilly ride, the set of three hills known as the Three Bitches were not so daunting for Sue. And I had recalled struggling up those hills myself last year. But this year we pedaled right up together, almost laughing at our former selves. And that, my friends, is the peak experience of having gotten over your fears.
The Peak Experience of the Swedish Days Century
What I learned from this ride was how to eat better and how high I sit up on my bike. Sue’s low aero position was hard to follow in the wind. But I thrilled in truth to see her pulling away from me at 80 miles because it meant her fitness for the Ironman was coming together well. She was thrilled at the end, and went for a good brick run following the ride. She wasn’t even tired.
However we stopped for beers and food with friends following the ride, and by the time I brought her home she was nodding asleep in the car. A foot rub put her to sleep on the couch and I went home to bed. It was a peak experience to share that nice fatigue that comes from doing something big and real together. There were many such nights, and part of being a Sherpa to an Ironman triathlete means you get to see your sleepy companion nod off during evening television. It’s part of the gig.
The Peak Experience of the Naperville Sprint Triathlon
In the weeks leading up to the race, my swimming was still a concern. In my head I had the swim segment at 700 meters. That’s a long way for this beginning swimmer. It wasn’t until race day that I actually figured out that the swim was only 400 or so meters.
But there was still a logistical issue. The water was so warm the race declared wetsuits illegal if you wanted to get included in the race results. Having no idea how I’d do, but banking on the fact that I’d done okay in the Galena race, I stood by the shore contemplating whether to wear the wetsuit and be disqualified or overcome my concerns about swimming without it and give it a go.
Sue stood by the start as I walked about getting my feet sandy. Finally I stripped off the wetsuit and said aloud, “I can do this.” And I did. It was chaos in the water given the fact that I started with a load of swimmers that turned the place into the Panic Pool, but I made it in just under 9:00 exactly as I predicted. And that was a peak experience of shedding fears to do something new that I really wanted to do.
By next year I plan to be able to swim a mile and perhaps enter the Racine Half Ironman. I can do it.
A peek at a Peak Summer
So it turned out this summer had quite a few peak experiences. I’d mention the fact that we also swam at Centennial in Naperville one hot Sunday afternoon. Sue rode 80 miles with friends and I pedaled 40 before meeting up with them at the pool.
And when she walked out to greet me in a borrowed bikini that complimented her figure, that was a peak experience for me as well.
It was a good summer because I spent more time in the water and even got the requisite bikers’ tan that makes you feel like you’ve actually done something with your life and lived in the moment. There’s nothing I like better than looking down during a ride to see sweat shining on the legs. Then you look up at your riding companions and realize, “I’m here. We’re riding hard. This is real. This is fun.”
Of course we’ve also overcome obstacles along the way. Late this summer Sue was forced off the road by an absent-minded driver. The insurance and legal protections for cyclists are ill-defined. There have been personal challenges and opportunities as well. I’ve started working with GreenMark, a public relations company I just love. That was one of my peak goals heading into the new year of 2015: set your career on a track that makes sense with your values, your passions and your knowledge base.
The Peak Experience of FRIENDSHIP
We shared many of these training and racing moments with Sue’s original swim buddy Lida, who committed last year to do the Ironman this fall. It has been fascinating to watch her gain confidence and strength on the run and the bike. We ran together all winter in the blasting cold. Then we trained through the damp spring and rode up and down those hills in Wisconsin. She and Sue are true friends. They trust each other implicitly. So it has been a peak experience to share in their mutual motivation. And as the race approaches, I fully expect they will both have peak experiences that will last a lifetime.
And that’s how life should be.