Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Why "Pseudo-Athlete"?

Why did I use the term "pseudo-athlete" when I changed the title of my blog?  A lot of my friends would say that I am an athlete.  To me, athletes are the people we are seeing in most of the Olympic sports.  Or people playing competitively in college sports or maybe even in high school sports.  Real athletes define their lives by their athletic goals and achievements.

Yes, I've competed in a lot of races and other competitive events over the years.  In the late 1980s and early 1990s, I did a lot of triathlons of varying distances.  I was a terrible swimmer, a barely competent cyclist, and a below-average age group runner.  I finished events.  Lots of them.  But, on the male side of the sport, triathlon had the big 4 - Scott Tinley, Mark Allen, Dave Scott and Scott Molina.  And then Mike Pigg came along.  They were athletes, making their living in the sport.

At some point, I realized that I was spending up to 20 hours per week training.  The time spent in the pool was not fun at all.  The time spent on the bike was mostly fun, but very time consuming.  Cycling is gear intensive and expensive.  And, I really loved running more than I did the other two sports.

I focused on road running for a while.  Even my triathlon years had seen me running road races, so this was nothing new.  With a lot of hard work, I managed to run some decent times - 5:18 for the mile, sub-18 for 5K, sub-38 for 10K, 1:22 for the half marathon and 2:57 for the marathon.  But, one racing event stands out from a period of time when I was in pretty good shape.  I was running in the regional USATF cross country championships on a tough hilly course in northern California.  I was working hard early due to the nature of the course.  As I neared the one-mile mark, I noticed that I no longer heard other runners around me.  I assumed I'd gapped some of the runners behind me.  I hit the mile mark in 5:48.  I took a quick look back and there were NO other runners behind me.  I was in last place in a regional championship race.  I did manage to pass two runners before the finish line, but it was a humbling experience.  A few years later, while in decent shape, I finished last in the USATF regional road mile championship race.

In 1994, I started running ultramarathons, and in 1996, I pretty much abandoned road racing.  I've finished some tough ultras.  Every once in a while, I'd finish in the top half of a race.  But, I also accumulated a bunch of last place finishes.  My first 100 miler was a last place finish.  At the Don't Run Boston 50K, I am 4 for 4 - last place every time I've run it, although I did tie for last when I ran my course PR.  Most of the time, my goal was to finish in less than twice the winner's finishing time.  I usually did this, but not all the time.

These days, I get humbled at CrossFit instead of on the roads or trails.  At our gym, which has some very strong and fit athletes, I'm an also-ran.  I'm not saying this to be negative or run myself down.  I'm the person with limited shoulder mobility who can't do a decent overhead squat.  I use giant rubber bands to do pull-ups.  I use the shortest box when we do box jumps.  I can't do double-unders.  I can't do kipping pull-ups.  I can't do unassisted ring dips.  I can't do handstand push-ups and I certainly can't do muscle ups.  Yes, I'm in the top quarter or so of the gym in terms of raw strength in the deadlift or back squat.  But, when you compare my lifts to my body weight, the ratios aren't so good.

I could tell the same story about skiing, but I think I've made my point.

So, I've spent most of the last 27 years playing at athletics.  I have fun, I'm in better shape than a lot of people my age, and I'm certainly better off than my dad was at my current age, or just about any age between 25 and 50.  By age 25, my dad was sedentary.  I'm far from that.

I don't intend to quit.  I would like to be the really old guy at the gym someday.  The guy who is still teaching skiing to children while in my 70s or older.  At the same time, I'm starting to focus more on doing activities that keep me healthy enough to do the things I really love, rather than training to compete.

I'm OK with that.  But, I'm not sure that I can honestly call myself an athlete.


Jeff Farbaniec said...

Hmm, no surprise I think you're selling yourself way short. To me, being an athlete is more about engaging competently in athletic activity. Order of finish is far less important. It would be impossible to participate in a 100-miler or regional championship race without being an athlete in the first place.

Harriet said...

My wife uses the term Faux-Athlete with me.

I hear you...and yes, to me, an "athlete" is someone with some natural ability. :-)

Welcome to the club!