Thursday, May 7, 2009

Post-Race Binging: a Rite of Rebellion & a Celebration

Q: "Does post-race binging signify something of a celebratory episode or is it a form of rebellion to stricture?"

A: I think the post-race binging (I call it "going carnival") is a rebellion and a celebration. It's healthy relief from the daily habitas and structure of sports nutrition, training and racing and a celebratory episode of social solidarity or communitas (see Victor Turner's “Betwixt and Between: The Liminal Period in Rites de Passage,” 1964). The post-race binge is a special time when the normal rules of being a triathlete don't apply. Instead of their usual low-fat, high-carb healthy foods, it's often anything and everything--served with beer.

It's kind of like sharing a few beers after work with friends on a Friday or gorging on Thanksgiving dinner with all the fixings plus desert. It's a stress relief, a celebrabratory ritual and it is a marker of in-group behavior and solidarity. The comensality (who you share your meal with) is significant socially and symbolically. With whom does said triathlete post race binge? Probably other triathletes--others in their group.

Would there be post race binging without the triathlete habitus? (see Pierre Bourdieu's Distinction, 1984) I don't think so. Triathlon's embodied culture dictates that one's fitness and physique must be actively "maintained" through a strict regime of multiple daily workouts and special foods consumed at specific times and in specific quantities. Triathlete jargon reflects their structure: instead of meals, they "re-fuel", instead of going out to Italian food, they "up their carb intake" or "carbo load" before a race. Triathletes don't drink when training, they "hydrate" and so on. What they eat is dictated down to the calorie and proportion of macronutrients (rather than eating local or organic). Their diet is limited to quickly metabolized and easily digestible foods before and during working out or racing.

Instead of the typical American-English meal structure of "meat + 2sides"(the main course is a meat and the sides are a starch and a vegetable-- see Mary Douglas' "Deciphering a Meal, 1975) the structure is more like "carbs + 2macronutrients" (main course is a carbohydrate such as pasta or rice with two macronutrients, generally a protein + fat according to Monique Ryan's "Sports Nutrition for Endurance Athletes, 2007) The routine of eating is different also. Instead of three meals a day, it's more like three snacks and one large meal at night (according to my triathlete survey, Fall'08).

Don't even get me started on the clothing of triathletes. Why is okay for a triathlete to run around in public naked except for a swimsuit and running shoes? If a triathlete races on a mountain bike wearing cargo shorts, flip-flops and a t-shirt, is he or she really racing? Special foods, special training, special clothing, and special equipment all comprise the habitus of the typical triathlete we see in the magazines and at the races.

The stricture is the catalyst for the rebellion. The rebellion, by it's ritual & communitas, re-inforces the stricture--the triathlete habitus.

Without the intense daily structure of multiple workouts and dietary restictions on what, when and how much one can eat, there's no need for the post-race release. Test it with a research project: "Post celebratory race rituals in non-training triathletes who eat taco bell, drink beer and live la vida loca" See if there are any.


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Thank you for sharing your thoughts.
:) A