Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Solo Sherpa

The other day I was leaving the UW track meet with Sydnie and we were talking about usual stuff – food, running, races, friends, relationships. And we eventually landed on the topic of training support systems. As Valentine’s Day and racing season is right around the corner, I imagine there will be many a social media posts about what this girl’s husband did to support his wife during a race or so-and-so’s “best boyfriend ever” nonsense. And while I don’t think it’s wrong to acknowledge love for anyone, I wonder: why not recognize the women (or men) who get to the start line without the support of a significant other?

My friends: some married, some single, one World Champion

I was 28 the first time I won anything of significance (my age group at Ironman Coeur d'Alene) and at the time, I was as single as they come. But I certainly wasn’t alone. All season, I surrounded myself with teammates and friends who would push me to become a better athlete and a better person. It didn’t really matter that there were several nights I made dinner for one or had the bed to myself (in fact both were probably better for recovery – more food, better sleep). And when it came to doing laundry, fixing my bike, preparing nutrition, driving to races, getting to the lake, I took responsibility on all of that. But that’s not saying I didn’t ask for help. I got to know my LBS (local bike shop); I traveled with friends to training camps; my teammates would generously feed me and pour lattes after most workouts. It wasn’t just triathlon; for years I’d drive solo to marathons and have a chance to meet runners before and after races. It got me out of my comfort zone on a lot of levels, but it gave me so much more. Full disclosure: in 2006 I ran Boston and cried at the airport because I had to take the bus when nobody was there give me a ride home. I blame the combination of jetlag + Boston soreness. And when I won Black Diamond this year I was a little bummed I could only drink one free beer from the beer garden, because I had to drive myself home and I'm kind of a lightweight after exercising. But usually I don't mind the solo travel.  

There’s certainly nothing wrong with a husband fixing a bike or making dinner or driving to a race, but I sometimes get annoyed when it’s called out on social media as if it’s the only way. Like Sydnie says, “what’s wrong with a woman being independent enough to do that on her own?” Some of the strongest women I know don't sit around waiting for someone else to help them, they go out and get it [work, workouts, dreams] done on their own. When I raced CdA in 2010 and won my age group, my mom was there at the finish line, along with Sydnie, Julie, and a bunch of other friends. Finishing that race with an age group win was one of my happiest memories and it made no difference that my husband or boyfriend or whatever wasn’t there at the finish line. In fact, I think it was more symbolic for me that I was single and had the support of a team of friends and family. And even now that I’m dating a triathlete, I love when Gerry’s there, but I can certainly race just fine without him. It’s funny, because our relationship doesn’t revolve around triathlon, just like triathlon isn’t what keeps our relationship strong. This is healthy for us.

I know there will be podcasts interviewing triathlon couples this month, along with magazine articles and other such media. And I’m sure I’ll listen to them or read them; I’m kind of a sucker for posts like that. Susan Lacke’s “Triathlon Love” column is one of my favorites, as she paints a pretty clear picture of what it’s like in a two triathlete relationship. And I know there are challenges to balancing relationships with a fulltime hobby (along with a fulltime job). But there are also challenges to racing as a single person. And nobody seems to acknowledge this. So this Valentine’s Day, here’s to getting to the start line with a sense of independence, making nutritious meals alone and maybe sharing with a friend, being your own Sherpa, 2-hour drives after running a marathon (multiple stretching stops), booking your own race travel, solo 20 mile runs, filling your own water bottles, pumping your own tires, wheeling your bike box through the airport, and celebrating with a support system you love!

Happy Valentines' Day!


  1. Love it! Everyone should have a solo experience at some point, and I think it takes a special kind of bravery. It's especially important to try if it's far, far outside of your comfort zone. You will usually learn something new about yourself and that can be invaluable. Happy Valentine's Day! :)

  2. I did a triathlon with no sherpa last year and boy did it give me a new appreciation for all that my sherpas do for me. My dad was my go-to sherpa and I loved having him there rather than my boyfriend. Sometimes I have to remind myself that I don't need to rely on other people to do things for me. I don't know too much about bikes but I'd rather learn than have to rely on someone else

  3. great post ck!! awesome teammates, a great coach, super friends and a wonderful partner can make a huge difference but a great support system is just ultimately it comes down to the athlete. knowing how to go it alone and still thrive is priceless. (i personally love it when i can break down and build my bike up faster than greg. i really love it when he calls me his whoaman!!)