What if I’m last? It’s a question I’ve heard many women ask, mostly rhetorically, when they decide to enter a race for the first time. Last place is dreaded. Last place is embarrassing. Last place is a sign of failure.
Let me take you back to February, already one of my least-favorite months of the year and the 2012 version punched me repeatedly in my emotional gut. It was a weekend morning after a long run when I sat in a Panera with my friend Sue and we searched my laptop for races. I wanted hard races. Races which would be ridiculous to me. (Emphasis on the “to me” part of the equation.) I’m not sure exactly why. Part of it was catharsis. Part of it was giving a physical quality to my emotions. Part of it was that it just felt like what I wanted to do. Actually, it felt like what I needed to do.
And so I embarked on a three-event year — a trail marathon in Letchworth State Park, a double-triathlon weekend in Geneva, N.Y., and a half Ironman with the most difficult bike course I have ever been on.
Feel the need to search my results? I’ll save you time. Scroll toward the bottom.
I’ve had better “performance” races. Hell, I’ve had better “performance” years. But now that I’ve come through the other side of months of long events and relentless, intense training, I can say this — outcomes only define you if that’s how you choose to define yourself. And defining myself by outcomes (along with how other people will view me based on those outcomes) is exhausting. I’d rather spend my energy elsewhere, thank you. It took me a while to learn this. I had to learn it in my own time, in my own way. And life had to bring it to me in a couple of different forms before I could really get it. (Life starts with a nudge, then a push, then a thump . Watch out for when it hits you with a brick.)
So this brings us back to being last. At Pain in the Alleganies I had two goals.
1. To make the bike cutoff. I trained hard on hills. I worked on leg strength. I worked on consistent effort on the bike and gained tons of confidence with going downhill. Where there other things I could have done? Sure. And my gremlins quickly provided me a list of all the things I should have done to better prepare. But I left them on the side of the road and instead listend my real voice, the one which said that I was going to work hard and do my best. Make it or die trying. All I could do was all I could do. And there was a certain comfort and confidence in that.
2. To not cry on the run. Every half Ironman I’ve done I’ve broken down into tears on the run. I haven’t examined why. I suspect it’s a combination of things. But this time I wanted to break the cycle. After making the bike cutoff I was elated and the first three miles of the run were fantastic. At about five miles I started to wonder how I was doing on time and discovered my cutoff was earlier than I anticipated. Shit. Shit. Shit. I can’t make it, can I? Amazing staff and volunteers were encouraging. Heck, even the police officer assigned to traffic patrol on the course told me with about four miles left, “You keep a steady a pace, you’ll make it no problem.” All the reinforcement was fantastic and I am truly grateful. But what mattered most was what I believed. It might be close, I thought. I might not make it. But I’m going to dig a bit deeper here and push through. Whatever happens, I will have given the best I had on this particular day in this particular place.
I was the last official finisher on the bike course and second last overall. (I passed my friend Sergio on the run as he was dealing with some nasty leg cramps.) On the course I knew I was bringing up the rear of the race. But I knew a few other things. I had passed some people on the bike. They were not going to make the cutoff despite their best efforts. What would they have given to be last? What would those who cramped up so badly on the first loop of the bike they had to drop out give to have kept going?
I thought about my training and my journey and my experiences. I remembered a saying, probably from Facebook, which goes something like this:
Dead last trumps DNF trumps DNS.
Amazing things happen when you decide to show up in your life. And when you follow your intuition, no matter how crazy it sounds to you, regardless of if your goals make sense to anyone else around you, some pretty cool stuff can happen. The trick is to remember that you always wear the ruby shoes. The power is always within you, available for you to access at any time.
Finishing last, or first or in the middle, doesn’t define you. Other people’s opinions do not define you.
This crazy, intense, sometimes frustrating journey has given me an incredible gift — the ability to define myself, for myself, with no apologies.