(Admit it, that song is totally stuck in your head now, isn’t it? #sorrynotsorry because I love that movie.)
I know that I’ve mentioned in passing (in some of my pitifully few blog posts in recent months*) that Brian and I joined a local racing team, but I haven’t written too much specifically about it. That’s a pretty big oversight on my part, as the team – Kennedy Law Racing – has become a considerable part of my life in recent months, and I don’t think I can talk or write about my life as an athlete without talking about the way the KLR team has become a big part of that.
We got involved with the team last year, a few months after it started up. I won’t go into the details of the genesis of the team, but for those who are interested, a bit of background is available at this article by the Tampa Bay Times. We learned about the team from the team’s manager, Park, who we met when Brian bought his Cervelo P2 a couple of years back, and after a lot of conversations and a couple of group workouts, we decided we were in.
(I’m going to take a quick moment to digress on something that I consider really important, which is supporting your locally-owned shops by buying from them when possible. There’s a tendency to look at the cost-benefit of these things strictly in terms of dollars, but I also believe in taking intangibles like supporting local economies and building relationships into consideration. For a brief moment Brian considered buying his bike online, because it would have been cheaper, but instead we bought it through a local bike shop, which is how we met Park. Everything that has come about as a result of knowing Park is…I can’t even put a dollar amount on how much we’ve gained through our relationships with him. The money we would have saved by buying the bike online is a mere pittance compared to all that we have gained.)
That was last summer. Since then we’ve both taken advantage of the Monday night interval workouts and the Wednesday night tempo runs sponsored by the team. I don’t think it is a coincidence that after I started showing up to these runs, I ran my fastest mile ever, was the first female finisher at two local 5Ks, PRed in all three half-marathons I ran that winter, and then ran a Boston qualifying time in the marathon. I spent much of the past several months trying to keep up with some of the fastest runners in our area, and it showed in my race times.
For a while, I went to the Thursday night open-water swims, which were held in a particularly murky, grassy area off the Dunedin Causeway, which forced me really quickly to get over my issues with standing in four inches of silty muck and swimming through water filled with sea flora. I may be afraid of certain things but I also have a lot of pride, and these days, pride wins out more often than fear.
Now, whenever possible, I try to make it to the Thursday night masters’ swims, which take place in much cleaner conditions but are no less brutal. I’ve become a much better swimmer as a result. I mean, I’m no Chloe McCardel but I do okay for a lady raised in the high desert of Utah. The best part, though, is how comfortable I’ve become in the water. You know how swimmers talk about having a “feel” for the water? I’m starting to understand what they mean, and it’s glorious.
Park actually paid me a really wonderful compliment a few weeks back, when he said that I was an entirely different athlete than when I’d joined the team, that I was much more confident and it showed. I know what he means, because I feel it. I’ve raced two sprint triathlons so far this season, and both times I felt myself reaching this new level of intensity that I’d never attained before. It was harder, yes, and in both instances I crossed the finish line barely holding it together, but my god, it also felt so good. That’s the paradox of all this, how it’s possible to find so much pleasure in the midst of all this self-inflicted suffering.
But as cool as it is to be all “hey, I’m getting faster!” – and don’t get me wrong, that shit is incredibly cool – what I love best about being on a team is, quite simply, the camaraderie. I already love to train and race, and being able to do so alongside people I like an awful lot makes it that much better. We all go run our asses off, and then we hang out and drink Gatorade and sometimes beer afterwards while shooting the shit. We go race our hearts out, then we hang out under the KLR canopy and talk about whatever while we enjoy delicious food and drinks courtesy of the team.
It can sometimes be a bit odd to be really into endurance sports in a culture where people are admiring but not particularly understanding of your pursuits (you know, lots of “why would you do that to yourself?” and “I only run when being chased” sort of remarks), and so it’s wonderful to be surrounded by like-minded people who get it. And because we all share these passions, we support each other in the pursuit of our goals. A good example came Monday during the Boston marathon, when a few of our teammates were running and a bunch of us were on Facebook posting about their times and cheering them on from a distance. (One of my teammates who ran Boston is Keara, whose blog is hilariously named No Salad, Extra Gluten. Her no-salad, extra-gluten-eating self ran a PR of 3:13 that day. How do you like them apples?)
I got to experience this myself in March, when I looked at my phone after BQing and saw that my Facebook account had blown up with long-distance love and support, much of which came from my teammates. It’s amazing how something as simple as words backed up by sincerity can hold such emotional power for the person on the receiving end of it. It seems so small, yet it means so much.
Being a distance runner or a triathlete can be a rather lonely pursuit at times, where you’re just churning out mile after mile or lap after lap, all by your lonesome, hour after hour. I’ve found that I like bringing other people into the equation, that even if I don’t talk a lot while I’m running or swimming, just being around others is enough to give it this extra social dimension that I find really enjoyable. It makes me less likely to blow off a workout, because a workout means I get to see some of my friends.
Finally, we’ve gotten some really excellent opportunities as a result of this team. On Saturday, the day before St. Anthony’s Triathlon – which I’m racing this year, and I’m so excited about it too! – the team is sponsoring a coffee barge like the one in Kona, except this one will be in Tampa Bay. I’m irrationally excited about this, y’all. Tampa Bay is a really gnarly place to swim, yet I’m totally down for doing it for funsies so I can hang out and sip some espresso with other triathletes while hoping I get to see a dolphin. (Seriously, sometimes I can’t believe this is my life, that seeing dolphins in the wild is just something that happens on the reg.)
And Brian and I are finally getting the opportunity to be part of a Ragnar team next February, when we’ll be on one of two KLR teams doing Ragnar Relay down in the Florida Keys. (I get to revisit the site of my Keys 50 triumph by running the same paths again, and I’m so excited about it, yo.) The team is stacked with people I adore, so here’s hoping our burgeoning friendships can withstand 36 hours in a stinky, sweaty van.
I know that being on a team like this may not be for everyone, but I’ve found it to be almost magical. Not only do I feel like it’s helping me reach a new level of athletic abilities, but being on this team is a hell of a lot of fun, and I am so happy I get to be part of it.
*I think I’ve been absent so long that I’m starting to get rusty, so forgive me if the next few posts are basically Livejournal-style personal writing while I get myself back in the habit of writing something more substantial than a quickie news story about a shooting or a car crash. Just trying to flush out the pipes.