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Races are chock-full of oddball moments and unusual encounters.
I was waiting with my friend Stef in the start corral at Challenge Roth, exchanging nervous pre-race banter, when a stranger turned to her and asked, “Will you spit in my goggles?” “Come again?” said a slightly incredulous Stef. “Will you spit in my goggles?” repeated the woman. “Um … OK? But to be absolutely clear, you want me to spit in your goggles?” Stef questioned, followed by, “Am I being punked?” Turns out the woman’s mouth was dry and she couldn’t do the deed herself, so ever-helpful Stef defogged the goggles, moments before the cannon sounded and we slipped into the swim.
The request for saliva was funny (and a bit gross), but far from the strangest thing I’ve heard during a triathlon. In fact, races are full of odd encounters when fellow athletes or fans make quirky or uncommon (and at times, annoying) comments. During the marathon at Challenge Taiwan, I stopped to gather drinks and sponges at an aid station just prior to a particularly jungle-y section of the multi-use path. An elderly local man who was walking past in the opposite direction rushed up to me, excitedly grabbed my arms and turned me so that I looked square into his eyes. “Many mosquitos! Many mosquitos!” he exclaimed, presumably warning me away from the perils that lay ahead. It was awfully sweet of him to be concerned, but really, what could I do—detour off course?
In that same race, as I jogged past a fellow athlete with my gels, tube of salt tabs and asthma inhaler jangling in my tri tank pocket, he asked, “Doesn’t all that stuff drive you crazy?” No, not until now. Not until just now.
Lately I’ve been training for a marathon in hopes of qualifying for Boston, causing me to reminisce about my last experience running there. I proudly wore a running skirt and felt toned, fit, flirty and fast. Not three miles into the marathon, a man ran up behind me. “You may want to wear a longer skirt next time,” he grunted into my ear as he huffed past. Say what? For one, my skirt had built in “spankies” underneath–not exactly conservative coverage but certainly adequate to cover all my important parts. Secondly, shouldn’t any warm-blooded male appreciate the view? If I may say so myself, I looked darn good—at least from what I could tell as I obsessively checked my reflection in storefront windows for the next few miles. Way to get in my head, heavy-breather dude!
Reflecting on these funny—and sometimes obnoxious or embarrassing—moments, I was curious what commentary others have experienced while racing and training. So I reached out via my favorite research resource: Facebook.
One of my high school pals, Bruce, passed an athlete during the bike leg of the Vermont Sun Triathlon. Turns out the guy was smoking and offered him a drag. “It wasn’t tobacco,” said Bruce. “I thought he meant ‘draft’!”
Warren, a local age-grouper, volunteered as the lead cyclist during the marathon at Ironman Boulder. After escorting race-winning pro Justin Daerr to the finish, he cruised through the downtown crowds, receiving numerous congratulations due to the sign strapped to his handlebars: “First Place Male.” Maybe the winner should receive a placard for his bike?
Olympic silver medalist Michellie Jones gets a kick out of recounting the guy who, seeing her out cycling, asked whether she planned to come out of retirement. This was one week after she scored the 2006 Ironman World Championship win in Kona, midway through her long-course career.
Kevin, a three-time Ironman finisher working hard to maintain a healthy weight, weathered this comment: “How do you do it? No offense, but you’re not built like the typical triathlete.”
My friend Bob found it funny that I told him he was “looking good” as I ran past him at Challenge Taiwan—moments after he projectile vomited all over the run path.
And former pro and four-time Ironman world champion Chrissie Wellington reminded me of the famous marriage proposal she fielded in Kona—from a fan dressed in a giant banana suit. Needless to say she was amused, yet refused.
Sometimes these comments give us a laugh and a lift. Sometimes they test our confidence. Nearly always, they make for good story fodder after the fact. So don’t go so deep into the zone that you can’t keep your ears open to what’s being said around you. Because often, it’s solid gold.