I have been thinking about writing something like this for a while now, and finally decided to put it out there. One of the things I've struggled with in the events I've done over the course of my athletic career, is getting people to understand the difference between a person who is only out there to be there and say they did it, versus someone who pours their blood, sweat, and tears into every training session and leaves it all out there when they race. This isn't about calling out the people who are only 'finishers' or for those who are 'competitors' to pound their chest in glory. This is more about making a line, and defining which side you, yourself fall on. And whether or not you want to change that.
A competitor by my standards, doesn't need to be someone fighting for a podium position, or even a top 10 spot in their respective age group. The key aspects of a competitor, are knowing their capabilities, and finding ways to push them. They've done their research, know the course, driven it or ridden/ran it. Competitors put in those extra hours, so that come race day, the only thing in question is 'how much harder can I go?'
Take my first 70.3 race for example. In no way did I think I would make the podium. Nor did I think I'd fair too well at all. I was the last group in the water, running my half marathon in 95+ degree heat, and high humidity. I was miserable. But, I knew my body, and knew the course. I watched the run course multiple times, knowing where every turn was. I watched the bike video a couple times as well, then went out with my wife and drove the course, to truly feel the hills and turns and the texture of the roads I'd be riding on. I found out where the aid stations would be and planned accordingly. I had two water bottles. One I made sure I was done with before the first station, and could toss, picking up a new one to replace it.
This starts to lead me into the 'finisher group', but we're not quite there. I had to watch people struggle up these hills, cursing. In another local race I watched a few riders ride right past the clearly marked turn for a different distance, then a mile or so later they asked me where the turn for that distance was. I knew that course, too. Since my brother was racing that distance. I watch people ride side by side, blocking me from making a safe pass. Just because you're out there to have fun and get your finisher medal, doesn't mean there aren't people who came in later waves behind you that are riding white knuckled coming up behind you. The rules are put in place for two reasons. One to keep everything fair and people honest. Two, to keep people safe. Again at another race, I was cruising along at my pace and came up to a pack of 4-5 guys walking and talking in a bunch, in the narrow stretch of the run where people were running in both directions. I politely asked them at 20m to move, then a little more abruptly at 10m, then lost it as I had to slow down and scream at them to get out of the way! And I was the one who was getting dirty looks!
Now, I have nothing but good feelings for those of you out there just finishing races, getting your Swag, and your finisher medal. I couldn't be happier for you completing one of your goals. I'll be one of the first to applaud you, because I know how tough it is. We all do. That's what makes these sports great. But if there is one thing I wish I could drill into the minds of those who just show up to finish, please, learn the rules, follow directions, and always keep your eye out for those around you. Whether they're struggling or coming at you like lightning.
One story from Cameron Dye a while ago I read in his blog was a story much worse than mine. He was coming into T2 while some Age Groupers were leaving. He's coming in full-bore, max speed ready to jump off his bike and race through transition. When all of the sudden an age grouper decides the cones marking in/out don't mean anything to him and he exits through the entrance. Cameron, being alert, and not wanting to smear the guy, rides off course and flips his bike. Comes up with road rash and body bleeding. He struggled through the run, and I don't believe placed.
For all of us out there, we need to remember the rules. A guy like Cam, this is his livelihood. It's a privilege for us to be out there racing with him and all the other pros at the same time. It's truly inspiring. What other sport can you see Craig Alexander running the other direction as you as you head out and he's heading in. Or see Matty Reed screaming the other direction on the bike. Even though it's only for a brief moment, it feels really cool. These guys (and girls) are competitors. Let's do everyone a favor and learn the rules, follow the directions, and pay attention.
My last bit is about medals. To be right honest. If I'm going to get a medal, or shirt that says 'Whatever Race: FINISHER!' on it. I really don't want it. It was never my intention not to finish. I know it's a little cynical and maybe a bit jaded, but that's just how I feel about the subject. I'll take a nice tech shirt, and throw your logo on it with all the sponsors and I'll go about my merry way.