When they do it’s magical – A feeling of beautiful flow, effortless effort – an almost euphoric unfolding of minutes or miles…
That is a topic for another day. Today it’s about the opposite. When the plan goes completely (or more importantly – seems to go completely) off the rails.
I attended a triathlon recently to support an athlete, network and simply enjoy the buzz that short, intense races with lots of participants generate.
It’s been warm, if not hot, on the front range so the cool night time rain and early morning Fall chill in the air were completely unexpected. The early start, damp, humid conditions made the 48-degrees feel even colder than it was. It didn’t look like anyone in the crowd of 400 or so was any readier for this quick change than I was – especially considering they were about to get in, and then out of, a chilling lake and on to a perhaps even chillier, breezy bike leg.
Wetsuits were “legal” and several had them… And, several did not. As waves of racers entered the lake, more than a few gasps and squeals let those of us on the banks know that it was as cold as it looked. As each wave took to the swim it was obvious that the conditions were taking a toll and quickly. In each wave racers struggled, some pausing to tread water, others clinging to safety crew kayaks and a few being pulled into the patrol boat.
I moved to the swim exit and even though racers were in the water only 11 – 25 minutes or so most looked hammered. Pale faces, purple lips and stiff shaky legs as the hit the ramp and stumbled stiffly out of the water. Unfortunately, the clouds and the breeze had not abated and Mother Nature was doing nothing to help the athletes. Just the opposite.
I moved to the transition area to watch swimmers become cyclists. Many with organized, tidy, perfectly laid out areas of gear fumbled as they rooted through closed gear bags for a jacket or t-shirt. Crew and family members were scrambling to come up with an extra jacket, t-shirt or sweatshirt to toss across the fence in a bit of a desperate attempt to help.
As I moved back and forth between the transition area and the swim exit I began to notice something else though. The disabled athletes, with prosthetic limb or limbs, a blind athlete, that I had noticed prior to the start, being guided by his guide exiting the water, smiling and literally feeling his way to the transition. The truly recreational athletes, whom I would venture to guess were in this “short” race, perhaps for the first time ever, with one goal and one goal only. To finish. I mentally followed several of these athletes through their journey as the moved through the course and I moved from the swim to the bike to the run.
What stood out to me most this day, where the conditions amplified the contrast of what is always going on inside the “race”, was that this group, inclusive of so many athletes that I collectively mentally classified in my head as “nothing matters but finishing”, was that they were always smiling. Okay – maybe not always literally smiling, but at least internally smiling. You could see it in their body language, their uplifted eyes and quick, positive response to a “good job”, “keep at it” comment. No grunts, no ughs, but plenty of smiles and thank yous.
I spoke with an AYS athlete afterwards and she backed up this sentiment. “The swim was so cold it caught me off guard.” “I knew I was in trouble as soon as I tried to keep my face in the water.” “Not far into it I had to hang onto a kayak to regroup.” “For a minute, I thought about quitting but then I thought about all the regrets I’d have and all the training I had done.” “I decided right then I would rather come in last than not finish at all.” “So, I pushed on.”
This event provides many valuable lessons.
Obvious ones like:
Even if the weather looks good, pack an extra layer or two and plan for conditions to be worse than expected, not better than expected.
Use rules to your advantage. If wetsuits are legal – wear one, especially if conditions are cold or your swim is windy and wavy.
And, Less obvious ones like:
Plan the race ahead in your mind. What it would look like if all went magically – AND what it would look like if it all went sideways. What would you do if the weather turned to crap? You had a flat, you broke a shoe lace?
But in my view and the AYS perspective, the most important lesson I want to share from this event is:
Training, racing and competing is about the journey – The process. Doing the work to make the starting line as ready as you can be. Then tackling the event with the mindset that no matter the weather, the conditions, the challenges – keep the smile inside you bright – and the fire burning with in you lit! Because, no matter how hard, how cold, how far or how long it feels in the moment when you step through the tape at the end all that suffering, pain and worry all but disappears.
Next time you attend a race pay attention to the faces. See the difference between those in it to win it – and those in it to finish it. It doesn’t matter if it is a holiday 5k or a 100-mile run. There are lessons to learn from the front and the back of the pack.
If you are ready for a fresh perspective come join AYS and start your journey to Amaze Your Self today.