Tuesday, June 29, 2010

the World Tri (the adventure)

well, i just think i've found the endurance event of all endurance events...or at least a very good candidate:

it's being called the World Triathlon, and in accordance with the moniker consists of 275 miles of swimming (down the River Thames and across the English Channel to France), 9000 miles of cycling (from France to Calcutta), and 950 miles of running/climbing (from the Bay of Bengal to the top of Mount Everest). it's crossing 13 countries over the course of 11 months, and it began today, June 29, 2010.

there hasn't been much attention given to this in the media (popular, sports, or even triathlon-related). in some ways i can see why. it doesn't feature a large field of contestants, but instead is comprised of a small team of what appears to be a handful (3? 4?) athletes and a small contingent of support crew (relatives, friends, doctors, etc.). moreover, sponsorship seems to eschew any large-scale corporate or government backing in favor of a selection of supporters consisting of several non-profits in Iowa (where i guess the team organizers are based), Des Moines University, Toyota, and the Pfizer Foundation.

according to the website info, it's not just being done for the sake of its own challenges. it appears to have an ulterior mission of serving as a platform to educate and inform audiences in the U.S. and abroad about global health issues and cross-cultural outreach.

you can get more information form the website, as well as from the following Vimeo video it provides of the team leaders, Charlie and Cate Wittmack:

[The World Tri] Educational Programs from Wild Hare Films on Vimeo.

i have to be honest about this. in some ways i'm awed, in other ways i'm skeptical, and in still other ways i'm very much intrigued.

i'm awed by the sheer scale of the endeavor. the raw ambition of the entire enterprise is just incredible, especially given the contrast between the size of the team and the expected expenditure of resources. it's just impressive.

i'm skeptical for precisely the same reasons. given the objectives and plans that are shown. given the distances involved. given the time projected. given the terrain and weather and seasons and politics and geography at play. given all the vagaries of nature and humanity. i'm not sure that this is even feasible within 11 months with the team in effect. i'm not sure it's even for real. and even if it is, it's still going to be quite a challenge.

finally, i'm intrigued by the nature of it. and i mean that not so much as an athletic event, but just as an experience.

yes, i know, there are many (me included) who have issues with any event lasting more than 1 day being touted as a race--particularly if such an event allows for night-time rest, beds, showers, good food, etc. a race connotes competition, which implies speed, which implies doing things as fast as possible, which means no nights to sleep, no beds, no showers, no good food, etc. an example is the infamous Badwater 135-mile ultra-marathon in Death Valley, which often extends close to 48 hours, with competitors forsaking beds and showers to continue running as much as possible. under this philosophy, something like the World Triathlon is not really a race, and hence not really a triathlon (with triathlons by definition being a competitive race of 3 disciplines of swimming, biking, and running).

my response to such arguments is that perhaps that's not what the World Triathlon is really about. perhaps it's not really about being a race. perhaps it's really about being an adventure.

and this to me, makes it very much in the spirit of endurance sports. it may not fit the typical definition of a race or a triathlon. but it is reaching out for the very same things, using the very same principles.

i'll explain it this way:

most people who do triathlons and other endurance sports do so to improve themselves. for them, triathlons and endurance sports are transformative events enabling their own self-transfiguration to a higher state of existence. in effect, physical activity is used to incite and produce changes in the body, mind, and spirit for the better.

following this reasoning, people involved in triathlons and endurance sports events are--at least in part--competing and racing not against other athletes around them, but instead against themselves (if you will, against their old selves, with the aspiration that their new selves surpass whatever they were before). the training and racing then is really a personal journey of exploration and discovery to expand the realm of understanding about ourselves, life in the personal, life in the abstract, the world, the universe, and our place individually and collectively within it all. in short, it's about an adventure.

but to me this is precisely what the World Triathlon is about. it is using an arduous physical endeavor (and make no mistake about it, given the description, it is most definitely arduous) to carry its participants on a course that will most assuredly provide them a journey of exploration and discovery every bit as personal and revelatory as that experienced by any triathlete or other endurance athlete. as a result, i see it as being worthy of the association with words "triathlon" and "endurance sports", and very much worthy of its moniker "the World Triathlon."

having said all this, i also want to say that i very much want to see what happens and how it turns out. i hope it happens. i hope it's for real. i hope it accomplishes its objectives and plans. because then it would have been quite an adventure.

which is perhaps why i'll be following it as it goes along...and i hope you will too.

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