So, I love email chains. LOVE them. I’ve got two going in my inbox right now, one with my best friends from college (somewhere in the ~500 emails range), and another with my two best friends that I’ve known my entire life (~100 emails). We all grew up in Pittstown, and have since gone on to move out of the bubble into entirely new walks of life – one to Utah, via a couple of NBA teams, one to Philly via teaching, and one to Boston as a personal trainer, via being a former fatty (his own words) and biologist. The only rule for the email chains is that everyone has to send one email per week. It’s fun, and creates a lot of dialogue and ultimately helps to keep me connected with friends all over the country.
In the email chain with my two friends from Pittstown, we started talking about triathlons and why we do what we do. With their permission, I’ve copied the emails below, leaving everything un-edited, only changing names. As my friend points out, its cool to see how competitive drive manifests amongst people.
Hope you enjoy!
To: Joshie Washie, T-Diddy
Aug 19, 11:34p
My life hurts so much right now. Raced my half-iron this morning, got horrific cramping the past couple miles (in my calves, hamstring, and elbow, and yes also my vagina). Cooled down for like an hour. Then jumped in the car for a 7 hour drive home. Fuck. I can barely walk right now.
More details to come.
From: Joshie Washie
To: Adam, T-Diddy
Aug 20, 10:01a
Damn, that sounds tough. Congrats on doin it though! Which brings up a question – I’ve always been athletic/into sports, but I have never had any desire at all to do those extreme things like iron mans/marathons. Do you find it worth it?
I’ve always thought it might be a little unhealthy to do such strenuous activity. I know you don’t just roll out of bed and run 15 miles one day, but a lot of the people I know in Utah who do that stuff have all sorts of knee and joint issues. Are these competitions what you keep you motivated to stay in shape?
I just have no desire for it whatsoever despite being into conditioning/fitness myself, but I know I’m the odd man out in this convo with you 2. Thoughts?
To: Joshie Washie, T-Diddy
Aug 23, 12:12p
I’ve taken quite a bit of time thinking about the answer to this. I’m actually probably going to clean it up and publish a very similar response on my website (adamfurlong.com
). Sorry this is long, I hope it answers the question adequately.
I mean, I hate running, there’s really no doubt about that.
It comes from a couple places:
I too, have always loved sports, and working out as well.
My family has definitely shaped me into being a insanely competitive person, in all walks of life. Remember – my Mom and Dad both graduated at the very top of their undergrad and grad schools. They have established themselves as the best at their job in the entire country, and have been on 5 Olympic teams. I know its only as a vet, but still – they were chosen as the best in the country, most capable of fulfilling their duties. During their time, they have been on a medal winning team in 4 out of the 5 Olympics (London being the only unsuccessful one). My younger brother has a 3.9 in a double major at one of the top schools in the country, and has made the under 23 National Team in a sport that I started first. He’ll go on to be some kind of insanely talented doctor when he is done pursuing more National Teams. Sitting at the dinner table, just to be able to be the center of the conversation (growing up, you won’t believe this but dinner table talk was about work and/or horses), was a huge accomplishment for us as kids. You had to do something pretty fucking awesome to not have to talk about horses. That feeling has definitely always stayed with me.
Rowing in college was the best experience of my life – I still stand by that. It’s a weird sport, its not a 100m sprint or anything, and it’s not a marathon. It’s long enough that you can go out at a “sprint” mentality, but not long enough that you can “settle” into a comfortable pace, the way you would in a long race. By the end of a race or erg test, it wasn’t uncommon to have tunnel vision or to experience blacking out. That feeling sucked a lot, but conquering it was a pretty awesome feeling, and knowing that my best friends around me were all doing the same for the greater “good” made it even better.
I think what it came down to was the opportunity to test the limits of my body. Once I found those limits, it was just a matter of finding a way over/around that brick wall.
When we were seniors, I remember our coach telling us that at some point after rowing, we’d have to stop rowing, but the competitive desire would remain, and as crazy as it sounds, we’d want to find ways to replicate that feeling from the end of a race. That may sound crazy to an outsider, but I promise you that its like crack, once you get used to it.
I stopped rowing because rowing in college was as much about rowing as it was my friends. To me, it was 100% a team sport. After college, however, it shifts to individual pursuits of a national team, and the whole journey getting there is most definitely not a team activity. Sure, there were guys working out with me, but if one of us was ever to celebrate, it would mean that those around us weren’t.
I moved to triathlons because in rowing, I was better at endurance stuff than pure sprint work, and I had a pretty high tolerance for pain for extended periods of time. Rowers also generally transition very well due to the huge aerobic base we have built over years of training.
I knew from day 1 that this was an individual sport, which was okay because I didn’t have any existing memories of it being a team sport (like rowing post college compared to college rowing).
I’m not sure that Ironman or Half-ironman distances will ever allow for that feeling of blacking out again. It can present itself in your body cramping to the point of collapse, sure, but I don’t know if I can’t replicate that exact feeling found in rowing. It’s possible that I can’t push myself to that place if I’m “only” doing it for myself, rather than for myself and friends. But I intend to find out what my body is capable of, and like I said before, then find a way to get through that wall.
I read a pro-triathlete’s response to a similiar question, particularly about the effect it has on his life. His response was as such:
I am certain that doing any number of Ironmans is not good for you. Elite sport is not healthy. I don’t think I’m adding years to my life every time I do an Ironman. Look at the prior oldest man in the world when asked about his secret, “I drink, but not too much. I smoke, but not too much. I eat, but not too much.” If you want to live a long time, moderation is the key. Ironman is not moderation. But I’m not interested in living to be as old as I can be. I want to enjoy the time I have. And I enjoy Ironman. Certainly, on balance, for a lot of people, doing Ironman – and really the associated training – can be healthier than the alternative. But I don’t see Ironman itself as actually being good for your BODY. But it’s good for a lot of people’s brains, including mine, and that’s really why I do it.” – Jordan Rapp, winner of US Pro National Championship Ironman (Ironman NYC).
So yea. Find a brick wall. Find a way over, under, or around said brick wall. Repeat.
You could have read everything I wrote, or just read that quote and gotten the same explanation.
From: Joshie Washie
To: Adam, T-Diddy
Aug 23, 12:46p
That was an epic response.
And the part about the dinner table conversations, haha, I was there enough to experience that horrible feeling first hand.
That’s awesome that you can enjoy it that much and get so much out of pushing yourself. I guess triathlons combine my 3 least favorite athletic activities which helps explain my resistance to them despite my love of sports. I see running as pointless unless you’re chasing a ball, i’ve never liked biking, and I have this strange dislike about being underwater/swimming. I don’t even go under water when i dive into a pool and when waves take me out at beaches i somehow still usually manage to keep my head above water.
Again though, awesome response. Definitely post to your site.
To: Adam, Joshie Washie
Aug 23, 2:23p
Ah, a conversation I love to have with people. Adam, that was an awesome response, and I definitely get where you’re coming from. The interesting thing, though, is how the competitive drive manifests differently in people.So Joshie Washie, to answer your question, hopefully as well as Adam did:
First off, I don’t even pretend that what I do to work out is healthy or adding years to my life, just like the pro triathlete said. I’m probably going to have knee and wrist issues later in life, due to the massive amount of handstands, olympic lifting, and squats I do. I lift weights that go way beyond what anyone needs to do to be strong and healthy. Not saying I’m lifting anything extraordinary, but it’s obviously more than necessary. No person who lived over 100 that I’ve ever heard of has been like “yeah, the secret is to squat over 300 pounds 3 times a week.”
I was raised in probably the least competitive environment ever, just about the opposite of Adam’s dinner table talk, and I think that really was a detriment for a long time in my life. My parents have always been extremely supportive and had that “you’re great, you’re a winner no matter what you do!” kind of attitude. I mean, they weren’t happy when I got a D in geometry (what was that dude’s name joshie washie- Mr. Forte? The super fat one? Godddamn. Adam, this guy was 25, probably 350 pounds, balding, and a huge asshole when we were in high school. Hated him so much.) but they never really pushed me or my sister to be the best or to strive for excellence, just to find what we liked and do it.
So I was a lazy asshole for the longest time, and my weight was a reflection of that. But when I started biking right at the end of high school, I went from a wheezy 20 minute ride to 50 mile rides in a matter of months. I realized I loved pushing myself and doing more than I had the day before. It was just such a great feeling, and it actually was never about weight loss or health for me, just a challenge to keep going farther or faster. When I was in Charleston and lost the majority of my fat ass, Laura got me running, and I was still biking, and I pushed myself hard in both to see how far I could go. I also started lifting weights and swimming, and tried to see how far I could go with that. It all just felt fucking awesome, and still was never about losing weight. I just did it so much, and loved it so much, that the pounds dropped off.
After a couple of years of dabbling in running and getting caught up in college life, I found CrossFit, which was the ultimate in competitiveness. Every goddamn workout was timed, or you had to get more reps or rounds than everyone else, and I got good at it really quickly. I was the best in my CrossFit gym at almost everything, and it felt so fucking cool. For a few months, I was doing it 6 days a week as hard as I could, beating all my old records and lifts, and I loved it more than anything.
It has evolved into me now just wanting to see my limits, like Adam. I want to see how far I can go in Olympic lifting- see if I can get anywhere near some records. I lift 4 times a week extremely heavy, and do some supplemental gymnastics work around that, and the feeling I get when I break my own record, lift more weight than before, get better at my form- it’s worth every bead of sweat and burning sensation in my muscles. I don’t really care about racing or beating other people, I just want to be better, and push myself, and prove that I can keep going where most other people would quit.
On the endurance end of things, I’m definitely getting more into mountaineering, and will absolutely be transitioning into ice climbing and trekking when the season calls for it. Andrea and I went to Boulder for a few days and just got back last night- let me tell you, it was fucking amazing. We climbed Mt. Elbert, the highest peak in the contiguous (basically not counting Alaska) United States. 14,440 feet. For the last 2,000 feet, we were gasping for air, and could barely drink water because we were breathing so heavily. Every step burned my legs and lungs, and I felt like I was going to collapse at any moment. That altitude is a bitch. But I loved it so much- I knew I was going to make it. There was no doubt in my mind I would hit the summit, even if I had to crawl. I love pushing myself like that. It’s probably not healthy at all, I likely killed a lot of brain cells and hadn’t done enough aerobic work to do it very well, but I made it, and it felt great.
I want to do higher mountains so bad now. I read “Into Thin Air” which is about a bunch of people dying while climbing Everest, and every description about the pain, the hardship, the intensity, it all made me want to do it so bad. I, like Adam, have a high tolerance for pain, and almost welcome it. I guess when I’m in pain like that, everything is burning and I can’t even get enough air, I know that I’m pushing my limits.
I think all humans are born with a desire to achieve greatness in some way; some do it in business, some in literature, some in science, and then some of us do it physically. Racing in an ironman, climbing huge mountains, lifting massive weights, dominating the pool, etc. It’s a calling I think Adam and I have and can’t ignore. I honestly feel incomplete in my life if I go more than a few days without pushing myself physically. Nothing else really compares to that.
Ok, done with my essay.