I have an idea: Let’s be unreasonable

24 Sep

Dear reader, tell me: Have you EVER had a truly excellent, epic outcome in any situation involving your use of, or acquiescence to, the statement: “Let’s be reasonable“…?

As far as I can tell, “Be reasonable” is a statement specifically designed to squelch happiness. Although being “reasonable” may (temporarily) alleviate some levels of interpersonal strife, it also (again, as far as I can tell) pretty much guarantees long-term dissatisfaction and regret. Being reasonable is a cop-out — a weak person’s way to avoid risk and muddle through life ingloriously.

IMHO, if you wish to live gloriously, you’d be best-served by acting UN-reasonably — assuming, of course, that your unreasonableness is premised on a proactive pursuit of personal empowerment (apologies for the unintended overuse of alliteration). Being unreasonable in the name of stagnation or subterfuge is just plain dumb.

I’d like to tell you two-and-a-half stories of TOTALLY UNREASONABLE events that recently appeared on my life’s radar screen — one tale belongs to me, personally, the other one-and-a-half belongs to a friend. We’ll start with my friend.

Ricardo Garcia, from Truckee — You. Are. An Ironman!

I’ve known Rick for 25+ years. We weren’t terribly close in High School and we did not keep in touch at all during the dark ages between graduation and the dawn of the Facebook millennium. Thanks to FB, however, we reignited our friendship and further fueled the fire by trading tales of our various cycling and other outdoor adventures. Things really got cooking when we both embarked upon fairly dramatic life shifts last year (he moved from banking to nursing while I went from law to neuroscience). You’d be forgiven for thinking that these shifts were the “unreasonable” events to which I alluded, but, really, they were just the tips of unreasonably large, totally epic icebergs.

Ricardo upped the ante on his life’s gamble by registering for an Ironman event slated to take place literally in his front yard. He did so knowing that his requisite “peak training” period would straddle the most grueling stretch of his academic calendar. How a 125lb guy riding a 20-year-old 650c Quitana Roo bike could even THINK about training for and taking on 2.4mi swim in a frigid lake, 112mi of cycling at altitude with ~6,500’+ of stated course gain (which actually would end up being more like 7,500’+ … Damn you, Race Organizers! ), AND THEN tack on a full 26.2mi marathon (again at altitude) WHILE going to school and trying to be a good husband and father for two children under the age of 6 was TOTALLY BEYOND REASON.

Heck, even cheerleading for this thing seemed somewhat unreasonable given the rain, snow, and 35+mph winds that marked and marred the day before the big event. We (Rick’s cheerleading crew: me, his wife-Laura, his kids-O & A, and his caustically merry band of brothers: Robbie, Derek, and Mike) rallied to make the most of Saturday’s inclement weather by crafting a series of colorful, hopefully cheery posters while Rick packed his various transition and special needs bags. Click HERE to see my photo album dedicated to this event.


Photo Credit: Robbie O’Brien.

We woke before the dawn. It was 31ºF, but at least the wind was gone and the sky looked fairly clear. Still, 31º is no joke. How do you swim at altitude when it’s freezing outside?!? We surreptitiously checked our Twitter feeds to see if #IMTahoe would (mercifully) be cancelled. No luck. It was “Go” time. We piled into our cars. It was dark. The kids were crying because it was so cold and Avengelyne was equally unhappy (anthropologically speaking) to be strapped to the top of Robbie’s car.

When we got to the Lake, it was socked in with fog so thick you couldn’t see more than 2′ in front of you. We crunched across the frozen sand. Behind the corrals, 2,300 bright pink and lime green swim caps faced off against snow capped mountains. Twice as many wool swaddled supporters huddled together along the shore. It was a beautiful misery. It reminded me of Iceland.

While waiting for the Start cannon to fire, I began composing a blog entry that surely would end with “and that’s how I lost my toes.”

Later in the day, after we had thawed a bit while enjoying stacks of chocolate chip pancakes at Mike’s house, Robbie and I traded the following commentary as we attempted to navigate a TOTAL CLUSTERF*CK of traffic along the bike route:

Me: If you’re climbing in your aero bars or if you have reflectors on your wheels, you should not be allowed to participate in the Ironman.

Robbie: Agreed. And add any people who wear visors or mirrors on their helmets. If you’re that clueless, there’s no way you can finish the race.

A robust game of “I spy” ensued, as we issued illusory DQ notices to violators of these common sense laws. We were in total agreement — except regarding one class of competitors.

Me: You know what’s really inspirational to me?

Robbie: Besides bacon?

Me: Yeah. I may love this even more than bacon — seeing fat people ride this thing.

Robbie: You’re kidding me, right?

Me: No. I love it. I love the complete audacity of it. I love that these people have the balls to register for what has got to be one of the most grueling physical endeavors, ever. And I especially love seeing that guy, right here, right now, today. Climbing up a hill in 30-degree weather. Ok, maybe not really “climbing,” but he’s still pedaling, still moving forward, not giving up, definitely exerting exceptional force in terms of stretching his personal comfort zone. I find that totally fascinating and inspiring.

Robbie: Maybe. Or, maybe he’s just using this as an excuse to stay fat.

Me: Huh?

Robbie: When I was coaching triathletes, I encountered several people who would do the absolute bare minimum to maybe eek out a finish (or, more often, to “come really close” to finishing) and then use that result to justify the fact that they didn’t “need” to change any of their atrocious eating, drinking, or other unhealthy lifestyle habits. Doing a tri didn’t make them any fitter, it just allowed them to cloak their infirmities under the guise of “being a triathlete.”

And I could see his point, which brings us back to how I opened the blog:

  • Being unreasonable for the purpose of bettering yourself (or others) is laudable.
  • Being unreasonable for the purpose of allowing yourself to remain or become diminished or demeaned is laughable.

I choose to believe that all of the Tahoe Ironman participants approached Sunday’s challenge from the prior perspective. And I know for a fact that the 79% of them who managed to finish the uncommonly grueling event proved themselves capable of superhuman endurance and possessed of supremely powerful positive thinking. Yes, you read that right — The 2013 Tahoe Ironman had a 21% DNF (“did not finish”) rate — second only to the 29% DNF-rate experienced at the 2012 Lake George event. One might surmise that Lake George was, therefore, “tougher,” but that would be wrong. The average finish time for Lake George was 13hrs-42min.

The inaugural Tahoe Ironman “boasted” a record-breaking high average finish time of 14 hours and 6 minutes. That easily makes  it the toughest of RunTri’s Ranking of the Top 30 Toughest Ironman Races. The Tahoe Ironman crushed the athletes beyond anyone’s wildest expectations.

Watching Rick cross that finish line at 14:41 was a profound moment. The pain he endured in the water, on the bike, and on the road was eliminated by his smile. The suffering that we spectators (thought we) endured as we stood for so many endless hours in the friggin’ freezing cold was rendered utterly moot.

What mattered was this:

We did it. We did it together. We made it through the toughest Ironman race ever and we came out smiling — not so much because he finished, but more because we all knew that his accomplishment symbolized Hope Writ Large.

Rick’s totally unreasonable undertaking gave everyone around him hope.

And “hope,” according to the ever-wise, all-knowing Wikipedia is the state which promotes the desire of positive outcomes related to events and circumstances in one’s life or in the world at large.

Basking in this hope, yours truly decided to take (yet another) unreasonable approach to her life:

I’ve accepted a job.

Or, actually, two jobs.

One of them will pay me $ and give me benefits, the other one will be undertaken on purely volunteer basis. They each will be 3-days-per-week and they’ll both be shoehorned around my ongoing academic goals/obligations, which unexpectedly got reduced when one of my Community Health courses got cancelled due to low enrollment — a blessing in disguise for sure!

I was TOTALLY bummed when I got the cancellation notice (because it was the course that I was most interested in: The Impact of Exercise on the Brain), but this course’s disappearance enabled me to accommodate these two new professional opportunities  — the details of which will be shared in a future blog, as this thing is over-long already.

So, tune in later to find out what my newest, totally unreasonable adventure will be!

Parting Thought: Reasonable men adapt to the world around them; unreasonable men make the world adapt to them. The world is changed by unreasonable men. ~Edwin Louis Cole

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