I’m writing this for a friend who recently, and profoundly, inspired me. Long-time friend Luke Whitmore. Father of Oscar, husband to the lovely Tarryn, firefighter, teacher, coach, family man. A solid man. I did a speech at his wedding, car-pooled with him during uni, drank copious amount of grog with him at pubs and backyards throughout our footloose years and have always considered him one of the most honest, down to earth characters in my circle.
As much as a career man in his early 30’s, he is now a dedicated professional triathlete. Over the 8 odd years of triathlon, he has continued to get stronger, leaner, smarter, meaner and more easy-going. The plight of racing and training has seemed to dissolve the anxiety of continued mind and body upheaval that triathletes seem to be in constant search of. It’s a heck of a regime flogging the body 340 days a year, 25 hours a week. Especially with progression, always progression. Splits, segments, wattage, outputs, heart rate, lactic thresholds. TIME. Time rules all.
I guess you could say I’ve followed his progress. From short-course, club level competition, to longer, Olympic distance events, before stepping to the longer courses of half and full ironman. I’ve also been curb side at some of his most formative races; first half ironman, first full ironman, first Hawaiian/Kona, world championships. I’ve seen him suffer openly. I’ve see him look like he’s not suffering. I’ve seen transitions go ok, good and bad. I’ve seen how sucked-back someone’s eyes can get after a race. And how a hinged, flexing and extending two-part leg, within an hour or two of the finish line, conjoins as one. A polar opposite to the flowing, hinged, unstoppable bastion that it was only hours earlier. Truth is, I’ve always been inspired. Not to copy his feats, just to watch and bask and think, ‘By heck, what a nut. A marvellous, crazy nut amongst a whole bunch of equally nutty bastards’ vowing never to put my body through such rigor.
Being from the same town, and me, not having fallen far from the tree (at least, after 10 seasons of falling far- far away, I now live in my grandfather’s old house) he often comes home to see his parents. On Sunday, during such a visit, he called in for a run. Or rather, we met on the road between our family homes, turned left and headed for the hills. I’m in an op-shop shirt, billowing hat and slick, crack sided runners, odd socks, and shorts clearly too small. Luke is in a bright orange top, short-shorts that look like the hulk was wearing them, miraculously ripping in the right spots and now fit him perfectly, swooshing socks, hi-viz shirt and matching runners. His wrist makes a noise every few minutes and his right-hand claws some gels. We jog for 50 odd minutes, talking about this and that, circuiting the dairy belt that rims the town. Pre-warmed, Luke- ever so gently, slips into another gear. We head towards the high-point in the district, beaconed with transmission towers and flanking winery. I watch as he effortlessly produces 4 minute kay’s, then sub 4’s whilst going up, on dirt, in the growing heat. I tick along, not effortlessly, with no extra gear, salting my nipples towards chafe. I’ve been running or paddling for years and know what it’s like to be inspired. Hell, you need it to get places and even getting up early sometimes is a con of the mind. But here’s the difference; to repeat the process over and over and over (and over) is another kinda beast. A bottomless form of inspiration when there’s always another level, another race, another time that sits on the horizon like a giant bloody carrot. Luke seems to have this vision smudged on his sunnies.
Splitting for home, we head our separate ways. His stride is still light. He looks amazing- built for running. I’ve never seen him look so set, so easy with his power. It is the product of 4am runs, whey-powder, advice, patience, hills, training progressions, trusting yourself. Of logistical plotting for time between work, body, child, wife, family, the lawns. Midday rides across mountain passes and up snaking valleys, getting dropped, hurting, and doing the same a year later and not hurting- as much, and dropping your fellow riders, revealing. Swimming amongst bombing kids and chlorine along an endless black line. It’s very, very, unromantic. Years’ worth of choices whittled into a machine of a body. I am, hands down, inspired by the sight; what he represents.
Luke will race the ironman in Bussleton, Western Australia in 10 days-time. I’d wish him luck but know fully well it has nothing to do with it. Luck suggests phantom unknowns, not eight years of toil and explicit scripting. I can imagine he’ll suffer. At the pointy end, pushing, it can be no less. I suppose it’s how he suffers- contently, angrily, aggressively, calm. After our run on Sunday, seeing what I saw, (even if only a layperson’s take on elite performance), I’m vividly imagining, as if knowing, he’s going to have the race of his life in Bussleton. For me, its been a swift kick in the pants to re-set my agenda. Maybe the hardest, and best thing you could ever give someone is a timely dose of inspiration? Thanks Whitt. Savour WA mate- swim, ride and run like the lucky bastard that deserves it.