[The following is the conclusion to, “I have a very active mind… and it’s been doing quite a bit of thinking lately” Parts 1 & 2. If you missed it, please tune in here to catch up! (link opens in separate window) …Enjoy!]
This summer, I’ve been really getting into training for and racing in triathlons. Right now I’m just at the sprint distance, but I have goals for next year to work up to Olympic distance, then eventually Half-Ironman distance and before I turn 30, I think I’d like to complete an Ironman. Okay, it’s out there in the universe now.
This might sound crazy, but I think a lot about life can be reflected in the sport of Triathlon (This is probably also true for a lot of other endurance sports, too).
Racing a tri, or just doing a workout at the gym, or at the park, or on the bike trail, or wherever gives me a lot of time and space to just think. I think about all kinds of things and sometimes, I think about nothing at all… Which is equally as nice.
While I was home, I completed a sprint distance tri. I also got to go on some good longer bike rides with my dad. All of these experiences cemented my thoughts on how endurance sports reflect life in some ways, and the pieces came together to now–this point where I feel like I can actually write about it.
When you’re doing a triathlon you swim, you bike, and you run back-to-back-to-back. And even on shorter distances, it can still be daunting to toe the starting line and imagine what awaits you out on the course. I think there’s this moment for everyone where the nerves kick in just a little, where you wonder if you’re going to be able to do it, where you hope all your training will pay off, where you think: “Oh shoot, what did I get myself into?” And then the horn goes off and you have to swim. And suddenly you just have to forget about all those little worries. All your thoughts break down to is simply:
Swim. Swim. Breathe… Swim. Swim. Breathe… Don’t drown. Don’t get kicked in the face. Swim. Swim. Breathe…
The thing is, you don’t really know if you’ll finish a race (or a workout) feeling good, or if you’ll have to force yourself to the line. You don’t know if you’ll be 100% prepared, or if you’re more like 75% prepared. You think you and you hope. And somewhere inside, your body knows you really are prepared and you’ll be okay. But your mind doesn’t hear it. There’s this moment where you just have to put faith in yourself, and hope for the best. This moment where you have to trust yourself and that tiny voice inside that says: “Go. You can do it. You’ll survive.” We can do so much more than we think we can. We just have to be brave enough to try.
So, you’re racing, and you make it through the swim feeling okay, and you think: “I can do this. I am doing this.” Then it’s off to the bike. Now… the bike is the part of the race where you spend the most time. You have a lot of space to think. But it won’t do you any good to think about how hard the swim was, or to think about how challenging the run will be after this ride. However it went, the swim is done and you can’t change it, and the run isn’t here yet so you can’t know yet how you’ll feel. All you can do is live in that moment.
Pedal. Pedal. Switch gears. Drink water. Climb. Coast. Pedal. Pedal.
The course I rode through Folsom on my bike that particular day, had what I’d call some (smaller) rolling hills. But for someone not used to riding many hills, it was a bit of a challenge. There was one hill I cruised down and got up to 30 MPH easily. A long, fast, decline. The course was out and back, and at the bottom of the hill I thought: “Oh shoot, I’m going to have to ride UP that hill on the way back.” Which was not a good thought, it was a tiring thought. Until I realized that it did no good to think about that hill either.
It did no good, because for 1) there was another uphill happening presently that was more relevant than that one, and because 2) I knew that I was going to go up that UP anyway. Whether I wanted to, or didn’t want to, it was going to happen to me either way. And I wasn’t just going to quit the race because of that one hill, I was just going to have to do it anyway, and move on.
And what do you know? On the way back in, I came to the hill and got to the top. As it turned out, it wasn’t even as bad as I initially thought it would be. Because right before that hill was that other uphill I had to climb on the way out, which was now a downhill on the way back. And that now-downhill gave me enough speed to get halfway up the now-big-giant-uphill with some sense of ease. With a little powering through the second half, I made it to the top and then I made it back to transition to head out on the run.
And even though my legs were tired from the bike, and I couldn’t feel most of my feet for the first mile or so… what happened on the bike no longer mattered. What happened or didn’t happen on the bike couldn’t be un-done. There was only the run, and me. Suddenly, running as best I could for the next 30 minutes was all that mattered. That was the only thing I could do in that moment in hopes of reaching my time-goal. I couldn’t re-do the swim, or the bike to push myself harder. Nor could I go back and save more energy for the run.
Moments like this remind me that we all only do the best we can, with what we have, when we have it. I used to believe so strongly in that. I used to live by that in so many aspects of my life… I’m beginning to again.
And I think that’s what this all breaks down to. That’s what endurance sports are about. And that’s what life is about. Doing the best you can. Making the most out of what you’ve got in any given moment. Not spending time worrying about the rest of those un-controllable variables. And hoping for the best.
You can’t control what the course looks like in life, or in racing. You can only show up and say: “I’m going to do it anyway.” Sometimes, we come across things that make us feel really insecure and unsure about ourselves. In life, hills can come in all sorts of disguises. It’s in those moments where all you can do is put faith in yourself that you’ll be able to make it to the top. And hope that you have a tailwind, or a downhill, or a few good friends, helping you along.
Because… Life doesn’t always work out how you think it will, or hope it might. Sometimes, that’s really hard to understand. But as that same oldest friend of mine said to me last week: You just have to be hopeful that there’s something more for you out there in the world, and there will be. Things will work themselves out.
It does no good to worry about what that hill will look like on the way back, because you just don’t know. And you won’t know until you get there to find out. Don’t spend time worrying, because on some level, you already know that no matter what it is, you’re going to have to get through it anyway. Don’t spend time worrying, because there is only today. There is only this moment. There is only the present. The swim is done, and the run isn’t here yet.
Recently, another friend said to me: “I don’t understand why anyone would want to go out and run, for fun! I don’t get why people do that. Fun run? No.” I just kind of smiled and said something like: “Yeah, it’s not always fun, I guess.” But it got me thinking: Why do I like running? Why do I like swimming and biking? What is it about endurance sports? Why do I do that? And I think this is my answer.
These sports help me to make sense of life. They help me make sense of myself. They give me a place to be thoughtful, or to clear my head completely. They give me space to take a breath, to be away from my day-to-day worries for a little while. They make my body, mind, and spirit stronger. They give me the chance to learn something new about the world, or about myself. They remind me of what’s important and teach me how to live in the present of each moment.
There’s something I get from doing these things that I don’t get from anything else. These sports put something in front of me that reflect life so greatly. Something that isn’t always fun, and often is quite challenging and tiring. Sometimes I don’t even know if I’ll be able to do a workout, or a race, or meet a time goal, or whatever. But somehow, somehow, I finish. Somehow, I get myself out the door, and to the gym, or the park, or the trail, or the starting line… and I do it anyways. Because something in me knows. Because something in me trusts the faith I have in myself. Because something in me says:
Go. You can do it. You’ll survive. You can do so much more than you think you can. You just have to be brave enough to try.
So… Be brave. Be strong. Trust yourself. You’ll survive.
That’s something that sports have taught me about myself, and about life. It’s something I try to remind myself when I feel unsure and insecure. It’s something I try to remember in those moments right before the horn goes off.