The experience is reason enough

It’s interesting how the universe gives you exactly what you need when you need it. All you have to do is pay attention.

After Sunday’s triathlon, I was feeling pretty good about myself. Sure I had a mediocre swim and a rather crappy bike but my run was stellar. It wasn’t the best pace I’ve ever run in a triathlon, but it was close and more importantly it was the best I’ve ever felt during a triathlon run. So props to me, right?

Ah, but later on Sunday night I looked up the posted results and had one of those heart-sinking moments. I hadn’t gone into the event to “race” per se — I went in to compete to the best of my ability — yet still seeing my name dead last in my age group discouraged me. Forget all the reasons why my ¬†“performance” was slow. At this particular time they felt like excuses. And I started to ask the question of what I wanted from triathlon.

It’s a good question to ask every once in a while. What is your purpose? What’s the goal? What do you really want? What do you really want.

Feeling this maze of uncertainty, I clicked around on Facebook and found this quote from baseball broadcasting legend Vin Scully:

“People use statistics the way a drunk uses a lamp post — for support, not illumination.”

First, thank you Ken for having the baseball quotes on your Facebook page.

Second, thank you Vin Scully for succicently summarizing my torturous relationship with numbers. It’s not the numbers which are bad — it’s the way we use them. Statistics can support someone’s theory about my performance as a triathlete (or in anything we like to quantifiably measure, from grades to promotions to pay checks, etc.) but they don’t necessarily illuminate. They don’t add depth and nuance and color and life. At least not in the way most of us use them — as ways to judge ourselves both against ourselves and against others.

One of my early mentors in endurance sport had wanted my first year to be about experience and my second year to be about performance. And so I have felt like I should strive for things like PRs and podium finishes. And while improving the quantifiable in the sport — my times and my place — has its fun moments and a place in my goal-setting, it is not my reason for being in this sport.

I’m in it for the challenge. I’m in it to learn new things, to meet new people and to discover new things about myself. I’m in it because I love it and enjoy it.

Yet, I started to wonder, is that a good enough reason?

As I was pondering the validity of my triathlon existence, I picked up the summer issue of USA Triathlon Life magazine and flipped to the story about NFL linebacker Dhani Jones who competed at the USA Triathlon National Duathon Festival this spring. (See the entire story, originally published in the Richmond (Va.) Times-Dispatch here.)

I’ve watched Jones on his Travel Channel series “Dhani Tackles the Globe” in which he takes part in some of the more obscure sports of the world while investigating the culture that surrounds and supports it. While I’m in television exile these days, I miss Dhani’s show in part because he’s a large NFL player with American sensibilities traveling to places and participating in events where he stands out as a large NFL player with American sensibilities. Yet he’s smart and humble and respectful. This is not just a gimmick to him.

And so it hit home with me when he was quoted in the story on participating in new sports, including the duathlon, as saying:

“I recognize and appreciate and respect that when I do these things, I’m going to be competing against people for whom these sports are a mainstay. So not only might I lose, I might lose terribly. But that’s OK. The experience of having done it is what I’m looking for.”

Granted, Dhani is a pretty darn good pro football player and believes that these experiences will help him become an even better NFL player.

But here is the wisdom — the experience of having done it is what I’m looking for.

Statistics won’t illuminate my particular stories and losing terribly, however that may be defined, really is perfectly fine. Because in the end the experience is reason enough.

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