Tuesday, May 26, 2009

On Guts

On Memorial Day, 2009, I returned to the site of my first ever triathlon. And on the day, I was fairly satisfied with the experience. After all it was not my "A" race of the season, and I had modest goals. I wanted to do better than my first triathlon, and I wanted to have a comfortable swim with my head in a better place than my previous efforts.

I did all that. I had a modest PR, finishing the course in 2:51:25, which is a few minutes faster than when I first did it. I had a modest swim PR, finishing the 1500m in a workmanlike 33:31, again, a little better than my first effort. I had a really fun/strong bike split of 1:13:13, which is an average of 20.3 mph over a course with lots of turns, some climbing, and several places where one has to slow to nearly zero mph to U-turn and then crank it back up to race pace. Then, in the heat of the day, being somewhat satisfied with the day's efforts, I "phoned in" the run, just lollygagging through the 10K, way below my potential.

I was pretty happy with the day's work, and had lots of fun. So . . . why am I becoming less satisfied with the race as time goes on?

Of course part of it is because I'm way too analytical for my own good and I think too much. It was supposed to be fun, and it was. It was supposed to be a day of play, and it was. It was supposed to be a super fantastic time spent with friends, and it was all that and a bag of chips.

But part of it is because I am just analytical enough to know that the unexamined life is not worth living. So, tolerate a little navel gazing before I make a bigger point that does not have so much to do with me.

Not to take anything at all away from an awesome weekend--but I've been thinking. (Uh oh). For this race, I aimed low and I hit the target. I swam better, but I swam easy rather than test what I was made of. I rode well, but biking is easy--I love the bike, especially on a technical, crazy-fast course. And when the run was harder than I wanted, I just couldn't be bothered. I aimed low rather than risk failure. Big deal. Sure, a good day of practice and preparation for Ironman Cozumel later in the season. But not very gutsy.

This race report, however, is not a pity party for Trigreyhound. In thinking about Monday, I really did learn something. I learned something about guts, but not from my own performance or from the performances of the fast kids. There were some extremely gutsy athletes out under the sun on the Cap Tex Tri race course. And if you look only to the race clock I beat nearly all of them. But somehow I don't think the race clock measures the winner of the guts race very well.

Everyone in the race, from the fast kids on down, is enduring something, whether it is the pain of the effort or the conditions or (very often) their own negative head talk about their performance or their chances for success. I'm sure we've all heard that voice: Why are you doing this? What is the point? You're not going to win. You're not even getting any better. I, myself, often have to deal with the critic on the shoulder who questions whether I belong on the course at all, and I'm at least a C+ athlete at this point.

Think, then, how much louder and more authentic the voice sounds with someone who is not a C+ athlete. For example, what of the first-time triathlete who doesn't (yet) have the skinny body and the muscles and the flash bike with the aero helmet? What about the woman who, 6 months ago, hated buying swimsuits and looking in mirrors who is now in spandex, out in public, racing and raising money for Team in Training? They were out there suffering in the sun, sometimes walking, sometimes barely running as I went by them at my "slow" pace. What's going on in their heads? Maybe they have a better and healthier thought life than me. Maybe they never doubt. Somehow, I think they do hear the voices or the criticisms or feel the judgments; yet, they keep on going. They show guts. They risk failure. They endure.

My time was faster, but I don't think I "beat" them.

And then there were the two racers that I want to point out in particular. Again, I passed them on the run, but I know for a fact that I did not surpass them. They were both younger than me, enough so that I might have been their father. They were running together, both dressed in red team jerseys. They both had haircuts that were high and tight, because they were both Marines, combat veterans. They both had jerky, labored running form, because they were each running on a prosthesis to replace a missing leg.

Not two years ago, these soldiers probably gave little real thought to injury or death, cloaked as they were in the immortality peculiar to young men and athletes. Their identity, to their very core, was likely bound to their physical strength and bodies that would obey their commands, bounce back and do it again the next day. Now, here they were, with bodies that were missing limbs, incomplete, unruly, difficult, nonresponsive. And yet, they aimed high. They risked failure. They endured. I ran right past them, but they've been in my thoughts ever since.

I was faster, but I most certainly did not "beat" them.

That's what I want to foster in myself. I want to aim high. I want to risk total, abject failure. I want to bite off more than I can chew, and then chew like hell. And I want to keep on learning from the people on the course who really beat me. Semper Fi.


Fe-lady said...

Great job out there...races always give back something.
Looks as if you made out quite well on the receiving end yesterday all around!

Operation Rebound/Wounded Warriors...great organizations both.

Lana said...

You never fail to tell it like it is, Cous.

You make a point that I had forgotten somewhere along the way...that living life in the comfort zone is no way to live.

Great post, and hats off to those marines and all the others...and to you, too...for always looking for ways to live better.

CNuk said...

That's an amazing race "report". It was awesome.

Thank you.

Trihardist said...

One of my athletes was there this weekend. She did the sprint distance. It was her longest race to date. I think this race report is talking to her. Thanks, TG.

Kim said...

first of all, how cute you look in the wetsuit :) heheheh!

second of all, congratulations to a great start of the season! awesome job out there grey!

third, it is amazing to witness such athletes who never doubt and never give up. humbling isnt it?

IronMatron said...

Yep. I get it. It takes guts to leave it out there. Remember you do aim high, you just didn't in this race. Next time. It won't happen again. We think it will be fun to just loaf--but it isn't--not even really in the moment. Giving it everything is fun--even if it hurts like hell.


In order to get guts, you must first learn to eat as much food as Tri to Be Funny and Hubster. Your "portion control" examples are lost on me :-)

CoachLiz said...

Thanks for the Team in Training shout out. One of my ladies was the last age grouper on the course. A few of the pro women beat her to the finish line. She stuck it out and we hung in there to cheer her on to the finish.

Later I found out that her mother died of lymphoma just two years ago after a 9 year battle and that none of her five children came to the race because they did not think that she would finish. She persevered and finished when the odds were stacked against her. She is a hero.