Halfway through the seventh week of Xterra triathlon training, and the highest volume of hours yet, I caught myself wondering what the point of it all is? Is training for a recreational race a selfish pursuit devoid of any kind of altruistic contribution to society? And if it is nothing more than a self-indulgent pastime, where does the desire to participate in such an activity come from? Am I part of a cohort who values recreation above all else? Why have we commodified recreational pursuits to the point that we’re competitive about them? Why am I striving to swim, bike and run faster than the other people?
Is training for a recreational race a selfish pursuit devoid of any kind of altruistic contribution to society?
This week’s training called for 15 hours of swimming, biking and running. I am devoting a part-time job’s amount of time to train for a race! I have so much spare time that I can spend my days running, biking and swimming for no reason other than to do those things faster. Not only that, I’m not alone in this pursuit! Whistler, where I’m currently training, has a triathlon training club. Every day, regardless of what time I go to the pool, there are other people swimming laps, training their bodies to slice through the water faster, more efficiently. Every day, regardless of what time I jump on my bike, there are other people riding shiny and expensive bikes down the trails. We’re racing each other to the bottom and taking photos for social media to prove that we’re so privileged that we can be out biking through the forest at 2pm on a Tuesday. What were once leisure pursuits have been commodified into triathlons, complete with commemorative hats, shirts, bags and increasingly expensive bikes. We have arrived at a place of such privilege that we can afford to fill our days with recreation for no higher purpose than the recreation itself, and by wearing the hats, we are advertising to the world that we have the money to do so.
Am I part of a cohort who values recreation above all else?
Recreation or leisure occupy a block of free time that is separate from work, survival (sleeping and eating) and education. Leisure activities such as hobbies and sports are done for their own sake and are intended to provide joy, satisfaction and maybe fun. Historically, leisure is the privilege of the upper class because the opportunity to participate comes with the availability of money and time. Leisure still may be pursued for its own sake but in the contemporary climate of glorifying non-productivity, leisure has been commodified by companies who wish to sell recreation. Sports and hobbies all include spending money on the acquisition of the necessary accoutrements. Everywhere we turn, we are being aggressively advertised to. Bikes, shoes, hats, socks, apparel…it’s all being sold to us through the glorification of athletes and “outdoorsy people.” If, as Hemingway famously said, “there are only three sports – bullfighting, motor racing and mountaineering. The rest are merely games,” then why have we glorified the games? Are we so gullible to believe the hype that getting outside, playing games and entering races is an admirable use of our time?
Why have we commodified recreational pursuits to the point that we’re competitive about them? Why am I striving to swim, bike and run faster than the other people?
Is pursuing fitness and playing sports (read: games) just another example of conspicuous consumption and the glorification of non-productivity? As I was nearing completion of my workout this morning (5x20min in heartrate zone three) I thought about what I was wearing (special bike shorts and clip-in shoes); using (a heartrate monitor and a flashy mountain bike); and doing (training my heart to be more efficient so that I can win a triathlon). The price of the clothing and gear seems incongruent with the value of the activity in my life. So I ask myself again, what’s it all for? I honestly don’t have the answer. I could say that I’m staying healthy; I could say that physical activity and fresh air is good for the soul; I could even say that my recreational pursuits are a gateway to philosophical musings such as this one, but is any of that true? Or is the truth that I’m part of an exclusive cohort who can afford to aggressively pursue leisure? I spend most of my days outside: skiing, biking, paddling and now running and swimming. I embody the advertisements that are plastered in outdoor apparel stores. I love being outside and I devote all my waking hours to figuring out what my next adventure will be. And I’m definitely not alone in this obsession. But are we the recreationalists bankrupting society of further intellectual capital? Are we so busy getting out there that we’re not contributing to society in an intellectual capacity? Or are we setting a healthy example for the desk-bound and car-bound people who envy the outdoorsy lifestyle?
I certainly don’t want to be a drain on society and I would hate to be labelled a conspicuous consumer, but I simply love recreation. Being outside, feeling my heart and leg muscles working hard, that is the place where I feel the most calm and the most inspired. The trick, I suppose, is to capitalize on that inspiration and use it to figure out what my contribution to society should be.
In the meantime, I guess I’ll swim, bike and run in the vain search for inspiration.