Saturday, July 13, 2013

How to Lose and Win

I don't know my race splits or even my overall time. I don't have race photos yet, except from my cell phone after the race. I haven't really had a chance to ponder what to write or how to turn my phrases.

This may not be refined, but I wanted to get it down.

A few hours ago, I finished the Echo Triathlon Olympic Course. That's twice the length of a Sprint. Distances today were a 1.5 kilometer swim (Echo Reservoir / wetsuit), 40 kilometer bike (Echo Canyon, rollers, up and back), and a 10 kilometer run (hard-packed trail).

There were a number of reasons I almost never started.

For one, I felt pretty sick all of yesterday. That's a hard way to race.

For two, I was not mentally engaged to the idea of this event. I'm not sure why, but making myself show up was half the race for me.

For three, it takes about an 1 1/2 hours to drive from my home to Coalville, Utah, where the race was hosted. So I stayed in Park City overnight instead, about a 15 minute drive.

This morning I was almost to the race when I realized I didn't have my timing chip. You can't race without a chip. My 15 minute drive turned into a 45 minute drive to fetch it. AND you have to park in town and bike 2 miles to the start of the race. AND you have to pack your own gear in. AND you have to get your wetsuit on.

I ran down to the lake half dressed in my wetsuit and from that point on was very nearly last in everything.

But that's really what this blog entry is about.

Being last.

What does that mean?

Well, in the linear sense, the answer is easy. There are X number of racers. We all get strung out along the route between points Start and Finish as we navigate various transitions and events. The first one to move from S to F is . . . first. The last one is . . . last. Everyone else is in between.

Although I don't have my overall time, I know my general ranking.

I was not precisely last, but perhaps 5 places in front of last? In other words, very nearly. I was in the exceptionally strung out section of racers who come across the line when the transition area is cleared out and half the racers have gone home.

Now, this being my first longer distance race, I had no intention of winning. And if I had, intentions would not have made a huge difference. I'm new to the sport and not very fast as a rule.

But for this race, I purposely did not wear my Garmin. I didn't want to time anything. I didn't want the pressure of trying to match any expectations, others' or my own.

I just wanted to finish.

But here's the ultimate question--
When you finish last (or close to it), do you lose?

Certainly there were winners. People who received special accolades on the stand for being extra speedy. And they were amazing. And I'm glad they won.

But if they won . . . did I lose? Are "last" and "lose" synonymous?

I talked to myself (audibly) a lot during this race. And sometimes I shouted really loud, usually stuff like, "Yeeehaw!" because I am from Texas after all.

But also I asked myself questions and tried to answer them. Questions like, "Why am I doing this?"

And I listed out about 10 reasons. Some of them were goofy. Others quite serious. But one of my answers surprised even me.

In part, I'm pushing myself through longer and longer distances to find out what's at my core.

What IS my core? If I got boiled down, and all my meat and bones and blood fell away, what one word would be left to describe me?

When I finished the race, I ran into a woman who has been something of a racing idol to me. She's fast. Very fast. And she's always been friendly and helpful too, with me, the infant. This is our third race together. She won the first two. Like, she was the total "overall" winner of both of them.

I asked her how her race went today. She was disappointed. I felt sad for her because I know how hard she works, but she said, "You know. You have to learn to deal with bad race days." That's true.

As I hung around for awards (a few of my friends received some), this same woman took the stand! I was amazed! She had come in third in her age group. I think I understand her frame of mind, but the thought that this was a bad race day for her was somewhat shocking. When she said "bad," I assumed it was *really* bad, not third-place "bad."

Then there was me. I could look in front of me on the run and see one person ahead of me in the distance. I could look behind me and see no one. For all I knew, I really was in last last last place.

But as I became that person, that person at the end of the race, I kept thinking of Bridgette as she struggled to walk and to run and to climb. Sometimes she used to take 20 minutes to climb up the stairs, and when she reached the top, you know what she would shout?

"I win!!!"

She won.

It was so difficult for her, and she was so proud of her accomplishment. By all standards climbing stairs is easy, even for children. But it wasn't for her. And it made me unbelievably happy to hear how proud she was of herself.

As I came toward the finish line today, I saw that the aid station was practically unmanned. I passed by transition for the last time and saw the empty racks, bicycles packed up and gone. I began to have all those thoughts about being slow and unworthy.

Then, along one side of the trail, about 15 young men probably in their early 20s all dressed in matching gray shirts began to gather in a line, shouting and hollering just for me. They cheered and congratulated. Every one of them gave me a high five.

And I broke down in that crazy emotional smile-cry that can only happen under duress when your thoughts and body are swirling.

I won.

I won the race today.

I'm CERTAIN that I felt better coming in *last* than my friend did coming in third.

I won because I showed up to BEGIN with. I would rather crash and burn half-way through than NEVER TO SHOW UP AT ALL.

I won because I was *this* close to running away altogether. When I went back to get my timing chip, I almost kept on driving home.

But I didn't. And that means I won.

I really felt like sharing these thoughts, so I hope they help someone know that they too can / have won. Will win. By trying. Trying again. Not running away.

Maybe "trying" is my core? I don't know.

Guess I'll race again to find out . . .

Steph Best: 3rd Place in Age Group
Leann Brinton: 6th Place in Age Group
Kelly Johnson: Last Place in Age Group

All of us, celebrating our win in a sudden downpour.


Lore said...

You are a winner in my book.

lynne said...

You kept going and you won!! You're amazing! :)

Jeff Johnson said...

I love you Kel, you are a sweet thing.

Unknown said...

The majority of people don't even dare to show up. Congratulations!

Mark and Kim said...

Definitely a winner!! And you've definitely been inspiring to me!!

Tammy and Alvin said...

I love your thoughts and I love you! So profound and true.
I'm glad you finally posted something. I had been thinking about you the past couple of days and how it had been a while since you'd posted. I worried that you might have been injured again or something. You are absolutely amazing!

Kel said...

Got my time! Couldn't find it because they had me in the wrong age-group. Total time: 3 hours 35 mins 58.6 seconds. Not good. Not terrible. Placed 87 of 96 females.