When I chose to stand upon my own two feet four long years ago, I bought myself a bicycle. You all know that much. You also know I’ve been setting small goals for myself recently and knocking them out of the park one by one each day. The thing is, we often only talk about our achievements, not our failures. Yet each un-reached goal has more positive value than we are willing to see. Today, I want to talk to you about a goal I set for myself, failed to achieve and all the wondrous knowledge and experience that failed goal brought me; about how failure is often one of our most important unnoticed successes.
In 2012 I started cycling, I even went so far as to take place in a semi-professional bicycle race. (See earlier post) I was lifting weights, burning fat and learning that sport and fitness can be fun. I often spoke with a small group of women around the world, inspiring each other to be adventurous and get the most out of our slowly aging bodies. During one of these conversations, one of my friends mentioned something called a ‘Iron Man’. At the time, I had no idea what this was. I learned that it is a sport competition where individuals complete 3 physical challenges in a row, the first is swimming 2.4 miles,the second is cycling 112 miles and the last is running a marathon of 26.2 miles. All 3 of these activities are completed consecutively and on the same day. What an awesome challenge! At the time I didn’t swim, nor did I run. None the less my friend and I agreed that for our 40th birthdays we would complete an Iron Man Triathlon together.
Here is the kicker. I’ll be 41 next month and I’ve NEVER done an Iron Man. I FAILED at reaching that goal. I no longer even have the desire to do so, and that my friends, is completely OK.
During the years building up to my 40th birthday I started swimming and running. I learned that I really do not like to swim. I do not belong in the water. It is wet, I am uncomfortable in a swimsuit, and I just look like I’m trying the whole time not to drown. Swimming is not my thing.
I started running. I am a woman who has given birth 3 times. I have gained, and lost and gained and lost more weight in my life then I care to openly admit. Running, in this body, means peeing my pants. It is sad, it is gross, but it is true. I have learned to accept that I am not a runner.
Even in seeing my own limits, I still choose to try, for a little while anyway. First I participated in a 1/8 of a triathlon as a team. This means that the required distance is 1/8 of a complete Iron Man and different people perform each task, I was the cyclist. This was so much fun that I decided to take the next step and go for an indivudual 1/8th triathlon.
I completed that individual 1/8th triathlon. Individual means on my own, in case I wasn’t clear. That was a day I’ll never forget, you see I am rather disorganized due to adult ADHD, ( something else I am learning to live comfortably with) and a triathlon requires a lot of forethought and preparation. I spent the night before the event, which I’d been (unfortunately poorly) training for months, gathering all my things for the race. Swimming supplies, goggles,swim-cap, ear plugs ( I can not tolerate water in my ears) towel, check, cycling supplies, shoes, dry jersey, water bottle,bike shoes, tire repair kit, check, check and check. That was it. Once I reached the cycling transition point I could just run further in all the stuff I had, no need for extra clothes or anything else. At least, that’s how I felt at that moment. Check and double-check. So back was packed, sign up numbers were ready, bike was ready, and I was as ready ( and terrified!!) as I ever was going to be.
That morning, I gathered my things, slid on my slippers and caught my ride to the location. I was nervous and scared and feeling really stupid. I am not an athlete! I am not a runner! I am not a swimmer! I am not even a REAL cyclist! I am just a short, too fat, divorcee who wants to believe that she is more than the sum of her failed life choices.
The first event was swimming, the thing I had trained the least for because it is the thing I am (even now) most afraid of. I now had to, upon my own sheer power of will, swim 500 meters, in a crowded swimming pool with dozens of onlookers cheering their friends, family and teammates on. If I remember correctly it was 20 laps in this pool, tho it could have been 2 and it felt like 1,000. I am pretty certain that there were people on the side lines cheering me on, floundering there in the water like a drowning hippopotamus ( not because I was too fat, but because hippos can’t swim!). I no longer recall so well, but I do know that I finished those meters without being dead in the water, I think even in less than 13 minutes. ( which is not fast, but damn it I did it!)
Lucky for me once the swim was over I got to do my favorite part, the cycling. 20 km as fast as I could. The transition went smoothly, I put on a dry shirt over my tri-suit, put on my socks and cycling shoes grabbed my bike and made a run for the start. Cycling went well. It felt good. I was probably the last or next to last swimmer so I had some catching up to do and I was passing cyclists left and right. Now please understand, I am not a fast cyclist, but then again neither were the people I was passing, so it worked out well for me. The sun was shining, I had tail wind, people were cheering us on along the route and I was feeling good. Then, just as I was finding that sweet spot of rest in the motion of the pedals of my bike, it hit me.
I forgot to pack my running shoes! I had come to the race in slippers! I forgot my running shoes!! Let me repeat this for you one more time, I had FORGOTTEN TO PACK my running shoes.
The last 5 km on my bike were purely solution seeking. Was I going to complete a 5 km run barefoot?? Maybe I could borrow someones shoes, there were enough people finishing before me. Panic filled my little heart, I am not a runner. I was trying to act like a runner, with no shoes. The transition place was approaching and I quickly found my spot and parked my bike, scanning the athletes for someone I knew. To my horror, and to my rescue one of the athletes I knew had just come in, and full of shame and embarrassment I asked him if I could borrow his shoes. He laughed politely and handed me his shoes, which were indeed 3 sizes too big, but I no longer had to run barefoot.
I did become a bit of a laugh that day, which for a moment made me feel ashamed, until I realized, I finished a 1/8th Triathlon, on my own, while being not a swimmer, and not a runner, in shoes that were too big for me. I finished. In under 1 hour and 45 minutes. ( barely I might add, but none the less)
Now, the photo you see here above is not from that race. It is from yet another race I did, as a team. This race went as poorly as the rest, I was late to my friends place for my ride, so we were late for the sign up, we lost our swimmer so some random person joined our team at the last moment; I, as the cyclist in the team missed a turn and finished ahead of everyone else, and we were awarded 2nd place prize that day. 2nd place because I can’t count. ( Did I mention I am not a mathematician? )
That being said, I’m admitting my mistake and showing you this photo of us receiving 2nd place because damn it, I am not an athlete. I am not a swimmer, I am not a runner and I am not a cyclist. I am just a woman who sometimes has the courage to fail, in the face of herself, her friends and her family.
See and that is what this whole post is about. I set myself a goal of completing an iron man and in the process of working on that goal I learned much about myself and about other people. I had experiences in competing with myself and with others. I learned, and I grew as a person.
This failure lead me to many success along the way, and it lead me to where I am today.
I am not a swimmer. I am not a cyclist. I am not a runner. I am not an athlete.
I am just a girl, on a bike, learning to love myself and my life.
Until next time.