Musselman 70.3: Bringing the heat once more

As we stood around on Sunday after my latest 70.3 adventure, Mom (sometimes forgetting the magical wonder of Facebook) relayed a story about my brother and his trip home from a vacation to North Carolina with his family. Apparently, my dear niece had some gastrointestinal issues on the drive home. She had two rather unpleasant bouts of, um, diarrhoea, in the car. “Big deal,” I replied. “I had diarrhoea THREE TIMES this morning before the race.”

The inspirational saying I picked way back when I registered. It seemed cheesy at the time. Appropriate on race day.

In recent months I’ve made the following self-reflective observation: The needs and behaviors of myself and my 9-month old niece are strikingly similar. The good news is that I still had this level of humor after Musselman 2011 otherwise known as the 70.3 race through Hades. It wasn’t my slowest 70.3 race ever. In fact, I actually felt stronger despite my slow time and my body wanting to shut down around Mile 11 of the run. The general wisdom of the day noted that most people finished around 30 minutes slower than their projected time. This was confirmed by my coach on our weekly call, who said that my race was in borderline dangerous heat conditions. I received kudos for merely finishing and finishing relatively unscathed.

Many apologies to my fellow athletes on Sunday, but I think the heat may have inadvertently been my fault. See, the universe has been trying to teach me a lesson these days, and I wasn’t fully paying attention. Hello 92-degrees in the shade for a 70.3 race day. That will make me sit up and take notice. (Or lie down in an ice bath and take notice, but you get my drift.)

I’ve been caught in the “what will other people think” trap lately. I know I’m better than this, but here I am, backsliding into the wonderful world of judgement, and more than that, the wonderful world of imagining how other people might be judging me. Seriously, I say this stuff out loud and it sounds ridiculous. It sounds like a crazy person who really needs to get some extra sleep, Vitamin D and perhaps the phone number of a qualified therapist. I might sound paranoid, but I know that people are checking out my race times. Some because they love and care about me. Some because they’re curious. Some because, well, because they have evil tendencies and negative energies. And for some reason, despite the use of the words like “evil” and “negative” I found myself caring most about what this group of people would think about my race results. Crazy talk, right?

At the pre-race meeting with my good friend Tara and new friends Staci and Tracy.

I’m not a newbie anymore and somehow, I developed a belief that because I am not a newbie,  it is no longer valid for me to race to enjoy the experience. I could still have fun, but I should be improving my performance. I should be battling for a podium spot. I should be getting better all the while appearing to not care about my results. If I am not at least trying to compete, then am an athlete? Oh and doesn’t that open up an entire new realm of identity questioning. I needed to reconnect with MY joy, with MY reasons for being an endurance athlete. I needed to connect with myself again. And on this particularly hellish race, I did.

When the bike started to get difficult, sending me into momentary panic (after all, a slightly above-average bike is all I’ve got) my mind shifted to thoughts of a dear friend and colleague in a cancer intensive care unit. I could imagine how much he would love to be able to merely sit up in a chair and breath without a ventilator. And so I dug in a bit deeper on the bike. I dug in because I could, because I wanted to, because I believed I was capable of a bit more, not because I worried what people looking at my bike split would say.

The run was difficult from the start and the “I suck” monster came out in full force. I recounted in yesterday’s nitty-gritty race report how a stranger helped me remember that being out there, doing the event in the first place, meant I most certainly did NOT suck. Then, a few minutes later, I heard a happy voice behind me, singing the praises of the people of Geneva who were out with their garden hoses to cool off the triathletes on the run course. It was Staci, my new friend via an old friend. We had chatted on the bike when I passed her. Now she passed me on the run. I told her I was battling my “I suck” monster and she replied with her own story. Three years ago at this very race she was sure she was the last person to finish as the half marathon took her over three hours and she barely made the overall race cutoff. There was no grand moral to her story, but it was completely beyond comforting. In the moment I didn’t know why, but I knew it was powerful because my “I suck” monster went away.

Me and the TRYChips gang at packet pick-up.

On the run, I also thought about my TRYChips gang. I had the opportunity to catch up with owners Tim and Jerry at packet pickup. It was the one-year anniversary of their freeze-dried fruit snacks and their philosophy is as good as their product. The back of their packaging reads: “We hope you tried your best …. be it first place or last. We hope you didn’t give in, give out or give up. We hope you gave it your all. What we really hope, though, is that you’re not just now waking up at noon letting another day waste away.”  I thought of Becca, a woman I interviewed for the TRYChips website, who said she knew she would never win her age group. In anything. That’s not what she entered races for. She wants to be healthy. She wants to be active. She wants to be engaged with life. She wants to create her life — not live someone else’s version of it.

I have friends who are tremendous athletes with lofty performance goals. This is spectacular. I cheer and applaud and will do anything I can to support them. The fun of performance-based goals is right for them. That, however, does not negate or deem invalid my own goals — to enjoy, to experience, to have fun and to push myself. I use performance goals as a way to create structure to my training. Yes, it is fun to improve speed, endurance and technique and see the results in faster race times. But my desired outcome is more difficult to define since it’s not pinned on podium finishes and PRs. I have had people question the validity of my approach and debate whether or not I can call myself an “athlete” because perhaps I’m participating and not competing. When the end of my long 70.3 triathlon day ended in 92-degree heat, suddenly, I didn’t give a shit about what those people think. My own definitions are the only thing I can control and, more importantly, my own definitions are the only things which really matter.

Yep. It took me a hellish 92-degree 70.3 race to embrace the conclusion which those who love me have been trying to bash into my thick skull for weeks.

Sorry about that.

And oh, the reason why Staci’s story helped me so much on the run? Because it was that: A story. It was an experience she shared. And that’s what I’m after — to put life in my years, to not waste opportunities, to have a ton of stories to share and reflect on when I get to my rocking chair days. With that in mind, I’m seriously thinking of the Double Mussel next year, though it might get in the way of Blood, Sweat and Gears.

This is Mark, enjoying an early beer at the sprint race. It has nothing to do with this blog post. Rather, he still owes me a milkshake. I thought this might inspire him to pony up. Likely, it will just get me in trouble.

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