A couple days ago I finished my first olympic distance triathlon. After months of swimming, biking, running, resting, watching what I eat and trying to lose weight, I was ready… at least I thought. After a last minute check of my bike and all my gear, it was time to leave for Lake San Antonio. I set up camp, made dinner and woke up on race day the next morning just before sunrise.
My insides were churning when I saw the elite college athletes starting to rack their “tie fighter” bikes (thanks Andrew West) and putting on their trick tri-suits adorned with sponsors, which alone, makes them look like they will be in the sub-3 hour mark.
The waves were starting and I was in group B of the 25-29 men’s wave. +0.20.00 and it was time to start swimming. From the GPS watch I was wearing during my race I was all over the place when it came to the swim, but I was able to finish with my fastest swim of that distance (1500m) in 00:35:23. I was feeling good after completing the bike leg of the hilly course in 01:55:46. In mile 20 of my ride, I started feeling my quads twitching- the first signs that I’m about to cramp up. I started massaging my quads on the hills to keep them from locking up and was able to finish the bike course. Once my legs start to twitch, I can’t stop it and knew that the remainder of my race will be accompanied by the threat of cramps. Entering the transition area for the last time, I started the run with a sigh of relief. Throughout the months I had been working the hardest on my running and felt confident that I should be able to finish 10k in about an hour and some change. At mile 3, however, I started feeling my quads start the twitching again.
My body decided before my mind did that it was time to stop. The second I stopped moving both of my quads locked up just above my knees and I was in pain. When your quads cramp up you have trouble standing straight and I was hunched over as people started passing me. I hobbled to a shaded area where I started feeling angry and defeated as I checked my race time. 3:20. I thought to myself, “I can do it, I can finish the last 3 miles in 40 minutes.” My legs, however, did not agree. A fire truck pulled up to ask if I was o.k. “I’m just cramping”, I replied to the fireman. “Do you want a ride back?”, he inquired.
Tempting- to just be done. It would have been so much easier to ride back to the finish, and most likely, the medical tent. But this would mean that I would not be counted among the finishers. I couldn’t handle that thought. “No, I’m good. I want to finish”, I said defiantly. “OK…”, he resigned with a cautious tone. I started jogging again, with my legs starting to cramp every hundred yards or so as I headed up the steep graded trail for the next 2 miles.
I’m pretty sure I went through the entirety of the grief cycle in that last 3 miles: denial, “oh, oh no. This can’t be happening. Not like this. Not now.” I started getting angry, “Come on body!!!! I’ve trained too hard for too long for you to give up on me like this now!” Shortly after, the bargaining with God began, “God, please get me to the finish, I have never quit on a race, I don’t want to do this now. Get me to the finish!” With my goal of finishing the race in under 4 hours starting to fade away I started getting depressed, “I should have trained harder.” I eventually moved towards acceptance and huffed the last mile home.
While I was bummed to not meet my goal, I was so proud to run across the finish line. I posted the results online and one of my friends and fellow triathlete, Matt Turner, wrote, “Finishing is winning.”
“Finishing is winning.” I like this. I think there’s a lot to this. If life really is a marathon, what do we have to do to get to the finish line and finish well? How do we pace ourselves so that our legs don’t give out in the last leg of the race? Is it training well (better)?
Kate always laughs at me because I always get so nervous when I look around at all the elite equipment that everyone has at these events. She says, “why do you get so worked up? Are you trying to win?” The answer is a firm, “no.” God made me a lot of things, he didn’t make me to be an elite triathlete. I like triathlons because it motivates me to work out and keep me from looking like Jigglypuff.
My goal in these competitions is to finish, not to finish in the top 10. I need to remind myself that my prime competition in these races, is me. Maybe finishing truly is winning. See you at the finish line.