Believe it or not, there are people out there who view triathlon as a completely self-indulgent, narcissistic pursuit that does absolutely nothing to benefit society as a whole. Frankly, I think it’s high time we stand up to these people, look them square in the eye, and tell them that, for the most part, they’re absolutely right.
There are occasional situations, though, where triathlon does have some positive social applications. Which brings me to the following story. I have a friend, Scott, who is a very talented age-group triathlete, and who also happens to be a police officer in the small town of South Dartmouth, Massachusetts. South Dartmouth is not what you would call a high crime area, but it does have its share of laws that occasionally need enforcing.
Such was the situation recently when Scott responded to the scene of a shoplifting. When he arrived, the suspect had just fled on foot, so Scott took chase. He closed the gap like Mark Allen on the last couple miles of the Queen K, but rather than nab the guy right away, Scott just fell in step behind him. As they trotted along, the suspect nervously looking over his shoulder, Scott said to the guy, “You can stop any time you like. I can keep this up all night.”
Talk about your bad luck. Not only did this guy decide to commit a crime when a police officer was right around the corner, but the officer happened to be an elite athlete who can crank out 5:30 miles without even putting down his coffee and donut. (Sorry Scott, couldn’t resist that one.) Anyway, after a couple minutes of running, the guy gave up and crumpled to the ground to catch his breath. He probably could’ve used a water station, but as usual there wasn’t one around when you need it. According to Scott, he could’ve grabbed the guy a lot sooner, but he’d done a sprint workout the day before, and wanted to get in some long slow distance. Too bad the guy didn’t flee by boat, because Scott could really use some work on his swim.
Ultimately, the perpetrator was tried, convicted, and sentenced to 10-20 hill repeats. The sentence was relatively light because he was only competing in the misdemeanant category. Had he been competing as a felon, he was looking at 25 hard quarters on 90 seconds, in the rain. Minimum.
If this seems like nothing more than an amusing little yarn to you, then you have probably never been a fleeing shoplifter pursued by a law enforcement officer who also happens to be an elite triathlete. But, seriously, this little anecdote raises a host of important sociological questions. What if, instead of meeting at high school tracks and secluded wooded trails, we triathletes met for our run workouts in crime-infested urban neighborhoods, where we could chase down pickpockets and drug dealers? Wouldn’t this be a way to get in our weekly speedwork and also “give back” to the community? What if the shoplifter in this case had been Hicham El Gerrouj? Would we have a new world record in the 1500 meters?
Finally, I think this incident forces each one of us, as triathletes and as concerned public citizens, to look deep within ourselves and ask the following question: How can we, as lawyers for insurance companies (insert your own occupation there), figure out a way to get paid to get in a run workout?