This morning my coach ran with me for the 5ks to the turnaround for my 10k run, during which we chatted mainly about his latest adventure at the Speights Coast to Coast in New Zealand.
Andy has been an unofficial mentor throughout my Ironman journey and I always love hearing about his races. He's always a step or two ahead of me (and in this case I think he's gone somewhere that I'll never go). It ain't called coast to coast for nothing - you literally run, ride, run, ride, kayak, and run from one side of New Zealand to the other. I know, NZ isn't THAT big a place - 243kms across in fact - but still... It's huge.
For Andy, the experience had been a good one overall, but I think he feels he has unfinished business, as inclement weather gave the organisers little choice but to alter the traditional route quite substantially. A lot less paddling, a lot more riding. He said it ended up being kind of an Ironman in reverse - 35k mountain trail run, 140k bike, 20k paddle. There was, though a 3k run and 55k bike tacked on the front.
As I finished my session and drove out of the uni, I saw Bryn, on his beloved bike Jake the Snake. Bryn had also taken on the Coast to Coast, carrying an injury that he thought might count him out. The course changes didn't alter the fact that he would have to battle to finish.
He told me he valued his the finishers medal from this race more than any other, because he'd had no choice but to slog it out. He'd made one of the course cutoffs by only 45 minutes, something that's all too familiar to the Athletic Powerhouse, but not to an actual powerhouse like Bryn.
Before I knew what I was saying, I welcomed him to the club. I hope he didn't take it the wrong way; after all - it wasn't about me. At all. But at that moment, I felt like Bryn had perhaps had a race experience similar to some of the ones I've had - wondering whether I'd make the cutoffs, and in some cases, whether I'd make it even at all!
I've often pondered whether others who compete at a different level to me could ever understand that I'm grateful for this experience. After all, if all I wanted was a bit of exercise, I could take a more routine approach and start a netball team with my friends. But that wouldn't give me the chance to really test myself; to challenge what's 'normal'; and to prove to myself that anything is possible.
On hearing about my friends' experiences at Coast to Coast, I'm convinced that this kind of sentiment is a personal thing. Andy and Bryn did the same race on the same day. But they had vastly different experiences, and will look back on that day with different impressions.
Even so, on some level, endurance athletes of all abilities seem to have some kind of common ground. Although our war stories are our own to reflect on and, if we choose, to share, somehow they all add to our shared experience. Whether you came first or came last; whether you set a personal best or limped home. It all adds to who we are, as individuals and in some way, as a community.
My friends both had to deal with challenging conditions, an unexpected course change, and of course, kilometres of river, trail and road. They are both Coast to Coast finishers, and although to some it's just what we do - to most, it's more than what's possible.