“Happiness is not the absence of problems, but the ability
to deal with them.” ~Stacey Charter
I finished a triathlon last summer with the worst results in
my race history, yet I am more proud of this race than any other.
(Oh – spoiler alert – yep, despite extreme adversity, I do actually finish the race.) And I have a finisher certificate as reminder proof that I didn’t quit when every fibre of my body and brain were screaming at me to do just that.
PS – This is a longish one.‘Ten Things I Learned From My Worst Race are at the end as a reward for finishing today’s post.
...the jitters I’m used to, but stolen sunglasses and
a forgotten helmet were a new dilemma. Great start to the day before the race even began! However,
my new swim goggles didn’t leak so on with the fun…
Let me take you through it … my worst triathlon race ever…
Within the first few minutes of the swim, I have trouble with my breathing technique. This starts some mild panic which, in turn, makes my breathing irregular. It’s a vicious cycle. People start bumping into me, pushing me off course and leaving me behind. More panic. I look up and see how very far I have to go…for the first lap. I start to cry.
Ever tried to swim and cry at the same time? Kinda like trying to sing and chew gum at the same time… while hopping on one foot with your eyes closed and your ears plugged.
Bottom line is, I know I cannot do this. I’m treading water and looking over to a rescue kayak with full intentions of telling them to take me back to shore. I’m done 🙁
And then the most ridiculous thought enters my mind… “I ate soooo much pasta last night.”
I had carbed up the night before so I’d have energy for the race. But if I quit the swim I was pretty sure they wouldn't let me do the bike and run portion just so I could have a workout. I’m even more sure that I won’t go biking by myself later if I quit now, so...
... I start to swim – more of a doggy paddle really – and then slowly, with no thought in my head other than burning some calories, I put my head down and imagine I am training in the pool. I sing the mantra, (in my head), that I always sing when I am swimming. Each word happens with an arm stroke and I hum as I exhale into the water – “slow down, it’s ok, just breathe”. And on the word breathe I tilt my head and do just that.
The mantra and the humming noise calm me. They always do.
After forever has lapped itself, I look up. I am FAR off course and I'm sure I can hear the spotters in kayaks laughing at me. I know spectators on the shore are wondering what business I have being in a triathlon when clearly I am so unqualified.
I start to cry ...again... but this time I don’t panic. I go back to my mantra and tell myself I just have to finish the swim and then I can quit. People from the next heat begin to pass me because I am so far behind. “Slow down, it’s ok, just breathe.”
An eternity later I emerge from the water as those laughing volunteers point the way and congratulate me. I find my bike easily in the sea of mocking, empty stalls. Throwing up seems like a good idea. Instead, I put my borrowed helmet on. I bike – sans sunglasses. Man, do I bike.
For the first time I actually pass people instead of being passed. Some of the men whizzing by me on their space-aged bikes tell me I’m killing the course (and I don’t think they are being sarcastic).
I start a cheering section for myself at one portion of the 3 lap route. I stay hydrated despite a malfunctioning water bottle. I have my best bike time ever…And then I get to the bike finish line.
I get off my bike. I take a step. I fall over. Seriously. I literally trip on my own feet and fall.
I begin to wonder if I have ever done a triathlon before. Fall down seven times, get up eight… that’s what you’re supposed to do, right? So I do. (Well, actually I fall over once and stand up once, but you get the gist.)
Literally bruised and bleeding I hobble into the transition area to change my shoes and run. Spoiler alert – I have the worst run I’ve ever had … EVER!
In reality the run time wasn’t that bad but it felt awful.
Running is supposed to be the part I can do. Swimming – I’m a fish out of water, biking – the goal is to not crash, (and usually I don’t), but running? Running I can do.
This day, however, I had a cramp in my back and it was agonizing. Some one passed me. And then another. And I just could not give anymore than I was already giving. It broke my heart and I desperately wanted to walk. Walking would be bliss. Walking would be the end of the world. Walking would be understandable. Walking would be regret worthy.
The argument raged on; my feet scraped on. As I waged the war in my head and I vowed to never do another triathlon, I overheard a bystander comment to his friend about how these athletes made running look easy.
I was an athlete? I was making this look easy??!!
Perhaps it was out of desperation, perhaps it was a moment of clarity, but I accepted that athlete label.
People attach positive adjectives to us all the time and we seldom fully accept them. I am just as guilty of the, “ya but…” as anyone, but this time I felt the word cover me and I owned it.
An athlete trains, an athlete tries, an athlete is strong. I am an athlete. Wow.
I don’t know if I have ever accepted a title as fully and unashamedly as I did in that moment. Walking, running or crawling, an athlete finishes. And I did. Proudly, slowly, painfully, alone… and yet not.
From the divers stationed in the lake, ready to lift me up if I sank, to all the athletes before me that have mixed tears with sweat to push beyond their limitations, I felt that satisfying sensation of belonging.
And I cried.
10 things i learned from my worst race ever
If I could do one thing for you it would be to change the verbal flow in your head and leave out all the negatives. They impact more than you can imagine.
Or maybe I would wish for you so many positive thoughts that they weed out the negatives.
But this is your journey alone… and yet not.
During the worst race of my life I became an athlete. I fully accepted a positive label for myself without a single ‘ya but’. If I could tell you how to do this I would, but only you can decide who you are – despite what your reflection says.
The positives are there for the taking. The support is all around you. All I know is you deserve your finish lines, so when it feels like you will never get there, repeat after me… “slow down, it’s ok, just breathe.”