Back in August I did the Rev3 Aquabike. I did the race for experience. I told myself before the race that the result did not matter. When I exited the water I looked at my Garmin, and I know I could have swum faster. I was a bit disappointed but reassured myself—“The RESULT does not matter, it is the experience of this race that counts. Focus on the moment.” I went on to finish the race excited – despite the electrolyte bomb at about mile 10, I regrouped, and finished knowing I was back of the pack, but I was completely and totally content. The RESULT didn’t matter, it was all about the fun.
I’m still processing my 2012 triathlon season, and getting into the after season mentality of reflection and planning for 2013. I definitely haven’t begun to think about what next – not just yet. But what I have done as a part of my 2012 post-season process is to go back and ask myself why. Specifically: why am I doing triathlon, and why I am I racing?
For me, getting involved in triathlon has always been about two things.
1. Be Strong to Stay Strong
I started doing multisport because of my belief that if I wanted to stay strong and not deteriorate from nerve disease that I needed to GET strong. I needed to be active in order to stay active.
I think the only thing I ever did with regularity growing up was body surfing – but that is because it involved going to the beach and playing in the waves, and who doesn’t like playing in the waves? I left home when I was 17 to go away to university, so it’s pretty safe to say that I stopped regular activity at the same time. I mean, I was never any good at sport, and with so many injuries growing up (hello dislocating knees!) I definitely avoided anything too tough as I just didn’t want to be hurt. And there was no ocean 15 minutes from anywhere I have lived since leaving home…
I admit it – I was never really been anything other than faddish when it came to the gym and being active. I mean, back in high school I flirted with running because I had a crush on a cross country runner. But I soon stopped running when that crush ended. I went to the gym before I got married, because that is what you do – you get fit for your wedding so you look good in photos. But in 2006 when walking up the stairs started to feel hard – when I had frankenleg sore muscles and still legs from just walking upstairs at my home – I got scared. Was this because of my nerve disease? Was I losing muscle function?
I admit it – I was scared of losing my mobility. So I took up triathlon. I chose triathlon because it involved three sports – and seeing as I am easily bored and like challenges, I figured I would never lose interest in such a sport.
I am so glad I made that choice.
2. Triathlon is FUN
Yes. I said it. This triathlon thing is FUN. Even when I am in pain from tendonitis, I still love the feeling of doing sport. I like the structure that training gives me, the sense of purpose in having a race calendar, and I LOVE the adrenaline of racing.
I “100%-beaming-smile-fist-pump-couldn’t-be-happier” whenever I cross a finish line! It never gets old and I still pinch myself – “I just did a triathlon!” (or substitute the appropriate sport – ran 3 miles! cycled 100 kilometers! swam 5k!) I love the feeling of achievement I get, even if I am the last one across the line.
I guess layered on top is a fear about not being able to do it in the future, in case my nerve disease progresses, or my tendons stop cooperating, or I get injured. But rather than focus on the “what ifs” I choose to keep my focus on where I am at on any given day, at any given moment.
What can I say? Living in a “what if” zone just isn’t good for my spirit! (or anyone’s, I hasten to add!)
This season I had a strange experience. Someone I know shared with me how upset they were about their placing in a triathlon. And assumed that I, too, care deeply about the place I take in the races that I do. I have to admit, I just shook my head.
– I’m not saying that improvement is not important to me – it absolutely is.
– I’m not saying that I don’t have goals – I absolutely do.
– I’m not saying that I when I race with targets in mind and don’t achieve them that I am not disappointed – I find missing a target gutting.
– I’m not saying that finishing last is easy…
And I’ll be honest. I hate being slow, but SLOW is the hand of cards that I have been dealt. I ALWAYS have to remind myself that I am out there, I am being active, I am doing it. I have to tell myself that THAT is what counts. I remind myself, constantly, that only 5 years ago I had not swum 750 meters continuously. That only three years ago it had been nearly 25 years since I had run a continuous mile.
I have come a long way in 5 years of triathlon. Sure, progress is often slow. And it is not pain free. I have to remember to be kind to myself. And I have to remind myself that my definition of success in sport is probably a lot different than other people’s.
My definition of success is waking up each day, going to the gym, and enjoying the way that I feel when I move. My definition of success in a race is giving it my all from the second the gun goes off at the start to wherever I wind up finishing. My definition of success as an athlete is the fact that I am out there, doing it, having gone from a background of zero sport as a kid to my reality today where sport and activity are a fundamental part of my life. My definition of success as an athlete is the fact that triathlon is now right there on the list of things that make me happy, alongside life’s little pleasures like morning snuggles and apple pie.
In the two races that mattered to me this year – the USA Paratriathlon National Championships and the London Triathlon – I didn’t look up my times until this past week.
I knew my condition at both of those races, and I knew didn’t hit my goals. Looking at a results table? It just wasn’t something that I needed to do (except to fill in my race results spreadsheet which keep up to date to help set goals for following seasons).
Results are not the measure of who I am or of what I have achieved this past season or during those races. On results alone and compared to past seasons my 2012 could be seen to be an absolute disaster – but it wasn’t.
– I proved to myself that I am capable of physically doing far more than my mind says is possible.
– I learned that pain really is only temporary. But recovery from true pain can take a long time.
– I learned that I have a good grip of the line that separates pain from stupid decisions – and that I am rational in race situations to think through, test my decisions, and trust my choices.
In reflecing on my 2012 I find myself reaffirming that life – and sport and racing – is about a whole lot more to me than what position I’ve crossed the finish line… This season reinforced for me that life is about being present, in the moment, and giving something my all. My 2012 triathlon season made me remember that whatever I choose to do I need to make sure it is giving me joy – even when things took a turn for the worse. And most importantly I learned that I am able to dust myself off after a bad day. Yes, I may shed tears. I may be frustrated. But I am able to step back and put things into perspective, I am able to find the joy, still, despite all the headline issues I had in 2012. And I am in the process of recommitting to THAT – the joy…
I am starting to feel re-energised and re-charged. I am *ALMOST* ready to start thinking about what comes next. What my 2013 will look like. Almost.
But right now? More snuggles and apple pie, please!
PS – I had to include this photo of this morning’s sky. Red sky in morning… Sailor’s warning – and no quick decisions about my 2013!