We have a local event here called the Coosa River Challenge. It is an endurance race that includes trail running, mountain biking, orienteering, rock climbing, rappelling, paddling, cross-fit, swimming, and several other crazy obstacles and challenges that the “Sadistic Race Planner” dreams up every year. The race happens in early October and I have competed it about a half dozen times over the last ten years. Two of those years I ran with my son. He was 14 the first time and 16 this year. We placed first in the Family Team category both times and also finished in the overall top ten. It is a blast but is certainly a challenge.
It takes us about four hours to complete the course – four hours of non-stop effort with heat, cramps, crashes, mud, and mental games working on us the whole time.
Conrad Stolz, XTERRA triathlete is credited with saying that training is like wrestling a gorilla. You don’t stop when you get tired. You stop when the gorilla gets tired. Our Transportation Director frequently advises us to engage and endure. These quotes describe my approach to competing in the Coosa River Challenge. They are also applicable in our world of stormwater.
The reason we call it stormwater management and not stormwater fixing is because stormwater is not a problem to be solved, it is a tension that must be managed. Effectively managing stormwater is hard. And once we start, we have to keep pushing. Best practices can’t just be presented once to our inspectors and contractors. Priorities and expectations can’t just sit in a manual or handbook. We aren’t just designers, or installers, or maintainers – we must see the whole picture and understand that our involvement at every step is required for effectiveness. Tweaks and modifications and change are not optional.
During this year’s race, my son had to pull me along during the run. I encouraged him along during the bike leg. I volunteered for the rock climb and rappel and he carried the cross-fit challenge. We encouraged each other during the paddle and joked during the transition runs and special challenges. The race is fun as an individual. But running with a partner makes for a much shorter day, literally and mentally. I love that we can spend that kind of time together.
Stormwater sometimes also feels like a solo event – sometimes the bad guy, sometimes a lone voice, sometimes a lone nut. But in reality, thinking that we carry a project or program on our own is illusory – it can’t be done effectively. We need a good planner and designer, we need a good contractor, we need a good inspector, and regulator, and program manager, and willing employees. We need a team. We need a partner, or ten, to make our journey toward improvement shorter, physically and mentally.
Some cross-over lessons for endurance racing and stormwater management:
- Sometimes we must lead, sometimes we must accept being pulled along,
- relationships thrive on time,
- happiness is more real when shared*,
- creativity, and strength, and even peace can be found in some of the most trying and chaotic situations,
- loosing your cool is like throwing up – you may feel better, but everyone else feels worse, and my favorite,
- suffering produces endurance; endurance produces character; character produces hope**.
And whether we are competing in a race, protecting water quality, or simply doing life, hope is a powerful thing.
*a take on Christopher McCandless’ original quote