Is Technology Killing The Art of Racing?
By JOSH BECK
Recently I competed in an Ironman Triathlon.
Over 2500 individuals put in the training and plopped down the money to swim, bike, and run all over Tennessee and rural Georgia. I was one of those people looking forward to spending the day among other racers and eventually crossing the finish line an Ironman!
The sheer volume of people at an Ironman is crazy!
Besides the racers, there are family members, spectators, and workers all over the place. The areas near the transition zones are PACKED with people. There really isn’t a place you can go where you are not 6 inches from someone else.
Since the river was at a dangerous current and quite dirty due to weeks of rains, the race organization cancelled the swim. We wouldn’t have to flounder in the river for 2.4 miles! Yay! Instead, the race would start on the bike section, with 2 riders going off every 5 seconds.
As my start time crept closer, the other racers lined up two by two. It was tight quarters, with every square inch devoted to a rider and bike. Eventually it was my turn and I was off, right in the middle of thousands of other riders.
For being in the middle of a crowd, it sure felt isolated!
You see, just like the rest of life, endurance sports have a lot of technology baked into them now.
Bikes have screens that show important metrics like speed, distance, power, and calories burned.
Running has devices that show pace, distance, stride rate, and even have pacers to keep the racer motivated.
Spectators can keep their eyes glued to a screen that shows second-by- second progress of their favorite racer, as well as the competition!
There is action going on all around, but you could compete or spectate this Ironman by watching a screen all day!
So, I passed group after group of cyclists, every one of them with their nose inches away from a screen. I rolled through the countryside and saw lots of things that interested me…wildlife, cool cars, and little kids waving funny signs. Technology had it’s place in my race, but I could still be aware of what was around me.
The run started and more autonomy ensued.
I heard rhythmic beeping from some competitors (to keep their leg turnover going), I saw frequent glances at GPS devices, and I saw “spotters” riding their bikes around the course, chasing their athlete with their phone calling out the placement of them and their fellow racers.
My race was much more simple! Run as fast I could until I either crossed the finish line or crashed and burned on the course.
I was going for top placement in my age group and I was willing to race on feel to see that happen!
Everything went well . . . until mile 17 when the power escaped my legs and the heat of the day soaked up my last bit of drive and determination.
I resorted to walking a bit, taking in the sights of others running while watching screens and listening to rhythmic beeping sounds.
Eventually I picked up a bit of energy and trotted towards the finish. In that time I reflected a bit.
The sport I had participated in for years had changed. Gone was the learned skill of racing and making adjustments on the fly. No more banter among fellow racers…they just look at you weirdly if you talk to them!
It was now numbers, screens, and technology. (Man, I sound so OLD!) As I ran and thought about my viewpoint compared to the “new” racers I laughed. I sounded like the old man yelling to kids to “Get off my lawn!”
The finishing chute came into sight and my race was finally going to be over. With 200 yards to go the street turned into a carpet runway to the finish line where they would announce that “Josh Beck, you are an Ironman!”.
My family stood at the start of the carpet and as I passed and gave high fives my boys started to run alongside the chute. They started sprinting and chirping in my ear. This was the first honest to goodness human interaction I had over the last 8 hours. Prior to this it was like a silent movie, even though I was around thousands of others! It was like an autonomous Ironman!
To the casual observer, they probably thought my boys were excited for their old dad and were running as a form of encouragement and excitement. I actually thought that was true for the first 10 yards too!
What developed was a dad-sons dialogue about going to the cool climbing wall after I finally (their words, not mine!) finished. My legs throbbed but we bantered back and forth about the wall, what features it had, and why I should take them. My brain struggled to make the switch from Ironman racer to dad but as the finish line approached, it engaged and we had the father-son talk that they waited all day for.
I didn’t get my goal for a Kona slot.
Chalk it up to an “off day”.
Maybe I didn’t train enough.
Maybe the temps climbed into a level I couldn’t handle.
Maybe my nutrition was off.
Maybe I didn’t stare into a screen long enough!
One thing’s for sure, even with all the screens, data, and autonomous racing throughout the day there’s still room for some honest to goodness human interaction! My finishing chute companions proved it!
Even with all the technology available, there’s still a need for a real human being to talk with!
Make sure you balance your screen time with human interaction!
Josh & Kobe