“Unless you push the limits, you stagnate. Only when you try to go way beyond where you’ve been before do you really grow. That’s when you’re alive. That’s when you’re really living.” – Mark Allen.
I have a couple of blog posts in the works that are more in line with my typical genre of exercise physiology and training prescription (one on the final phase of annual periodization – The Race Preparation Phase, and another on the realities of de-training), but after reading Gordo’s latest blog, I had a bunch of thoughts swirling around that I wanted to put on paper. I hope you find my catharsis entertaining :-)
In said blog, the g-man asks the question:
“What is the point of achievement if we need to damage ourselves in the process?”
Gordo goes on to point out something that, while the masses may not understand, something that, as athletes, we all (eventually) get: Athletic achievement and personal wellness are not synonomous. In fact, at the highest elite level, they are completely incongruent.
And so, as athletes, as people, we ultimately must answer the question “Why on earth would I choose to pursue an activity that may shorten, if not prematurely end my life?” For some, the answer is simple, “I wouldn’t” and so triathlon is pursued only to the extent that it enriches their health and the rest of their lives. They hike the small peaks and turn around when the footing becomes a little loose.
Others, perhaps the majority of athletes out there secretly enjoy the challenge, but rationally convince themselves that their level of involvement in triathlon supports their health and greater goals. As renowned exercise physiologist, Cooper, concluded back in the day, physiologically this is not the case: ‘If you are training more than 5 hours a week you are doing it for reasons other than health.’ For these athletes, drawing that fine line between achievement and wellness is a constant struggle.
For others, like the climber who inspired the title for today’s piece, the answer to Gordo’s question is just as easy (while perhaps not as rational) as the first group. When, in 1924, George Mallory was asked “Why would you want to climb Everest (when there is every chance of failure/death)?” he simply, and definitively replied “Because it’s there!”. Soon after, Mallory and his colleague, Andrew Comyn Irvine disappeared on the mountain and were not seen again until an expedition discovered their frozen bodies in 1999, 75 years, and some 1100 successful summits since Mallory made his decision.
In my mind, the perspective you take on Mallory’s quest, whether an ill-thought decision that resulted in failure or an inspiring example of ‘going for it 100%’ and living without fear says a lot about your potential as a triathlete.
We all choose (if and) when we turn around on the mountain.