I want to share an experience I had this weekend. I participated in the XTERRA Off-road Triathlon at Oak Mountain State Park—my first off-road triathlon. This event is a grueling mix of open water swim, challenging mountain bike trails and a hilly trail run to finish it off. Being relatively new to triathlons and mountain biking, I didn’t really expect to place or anything, but I did have a goal (see Dr. John’s post about goal setting) of reaching the run portion under a certain time. Any later and I would have to skip the run section because I had to be at work that morning (quadrathlon?). Meeting this goal would require me to have a solid swim and bike with no major mistakes. So here’s how it went:
The swim turned into a disaster within the first 30 seconds. In the craziness of the mass start, with about 100 competitors jumping in the water at the same time, it felt like all 400 of those combined arms and legs were hitting me in the face. I felt rushed and claustrophobic. I quickly lost my cool (I don’t typically lose my cool easily) and started to panic and hyperventilate. I’d swam 4x that distance many times with little trouble yet, at that moment, I couldn’t keep my face under water long enough to even put in 2 swim strokes. I thought to myself I’ve already failed. Not only was I not going to make my time, I would probably need to be rescued—carried to the shore in humiliation in front of the crowds of onlookers.
At that moment I had a choice—I could quit or I could face this seemingly impossible challenge. The rescue boaters had noticed my struggle. They were pretending not to, but I could tell they were keeping close in case I needed help. All I had to do was raise my hand and the ordeal would be over. I wanted to so badly at that moment. I’ve never been one to give up, but this experience was a real test. I decided that I would not give up. Even if I had to dog paddle the entire distance — roughly a half mile—I was going to finish.
I set out, dog paddling and counting to ten trying to bring my breathing rate down. I would take a couple strokes with my head down and then come back up. I slowly worked my way back to a crawl stroke. I gradually started to calm down. About halfway through the course, I got back into my groove. Like magic, the panic was gone. I put in full throttle and finished strong.
I got to the bike knowing I had a lot of ground to make up. I knew I wasn’t the most skilled rider out there, by far. I would have to make up the time with grit. For 10 miles I went as hard as I could—no stops, no coasting. I crushed the first 8 miles of bike section—passing over 30 people and not getting passed once.
More adversity. Somewhere after mile 8, my rear tire went flat. I was basically riding on the rim. My back wheel would slide out from under me on any significant turn. I was exhausted. This was easily a valid reason to quit. I decided I had come this far, and time was not going to allow for a patch trailside. I kept going, leaning forward onto my front wheel on turns and paddling extra hard on descents as my rear tire was no longer grabbing as well to pull me through climbs. Despite this handicap, I finished the bike section without being passed. I looked at my watch at the transition area. To my disbelief, I had made my deadline!
My legs were toast. I forced my wobbling body forward onto the run. Stomach cramping and legs protesting, I finished the run at a respectable pace, ran through the finish line, straight to the lake and took a quick bath before jumping in the car to race to work where I made it just in time!
Of all my sports and fitness achievements I am most proud of this one. Not because I won anything or even placed, but because I faced huge adversity and didn’t give up. Because I persevered, I met my goal of finishing in time to do the whole race and still make it to work and take care of my patients. I am proud of myself for not giving up. I tell this story to remind you that while things don’t always go as you planned, there is always something to gain from your efforts. Often you learn more from your failures than you do from your successes. I encourage you to apply this thinking to your health foundational goals, whether it’s a diet change, starting or keeping to a fitness regimen, making a commitment to take better care of your body, giving more to your family, or any difficult challenge you face in the betterment of yourself. Use your failures to propel you to the next success. In closing, I’ll summarize this story with a quote from a poster my parents gave me when I was young, which read,
“You never fail until you stop trying”.
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