The Non Compete Athlete

There is no chance I will win IronMan Florida, none of reaching podium in my age group or of qualifying for Kona.  It’s this lack of performance pressure that attracts me to crazy endurance events because just finishing is the accomplishment.  I am not competing.

The IronMan is one day of my life, but it took almost a year to get to the start line.  Each time I didn’t want to train, overcame the fear of riding my bicycle, or pushed through a run was a small victory. I have grown and discovered parts of me that have made me hold my head high, and others that look more as “opportunities for personal growth.” There are many of those.

When I was a kid, I was a tennis player with a mean backhand.  It was the power move I used to show-off as the ball went fast and low to the other side of the court. Yet put me in a match and that mean backhand all but disappeared.  I was too afraid of hitting the ball hard and out of bounds so I played like an old lady: safe, slow and high. I constantly lost to people who did not play as well as I did.

Oh and the mind games! In that fear and frustration of not allowing myself to play like I knew I could, I argued with the committee in my head, negotiated with God, contained my elation if I won a point and controlled the tears when I lost one.  Tennis matches were no fun and I designated myself as a “non competitor.”  I love practicing. I hate competing.

Dreamer has no issues competing in Golf. He loves it.

Dreamer has no issues competing in Golf. He loves it.

This still holds true.  Some months ago I had speed tests in each of the three disciplines and didn’t do well in any.  Just knowing I had to “report” my times was enough to send me off center. I knew I could swim, bike, and run faster than I was able to show.  My body could do the work, but my mind wouldn’t let it.

It prompted me to look at why I was so apprehensive.

Though I would like to spin this into a positive light, the brutal truth is that I’m prideful; I don’t like losing.  In order to avoid the risk of losing, I don’t compete because then neither you nor I know how good or bad I am.  My real ability remains a mystery, and as a mystery it remains open to anyone’s guess.

So I went on a limb when I submitted a photocard for a contest celebrating the 10 year anniversary of (a Wolfpack sponosor).  The generous prize included a wetsuit, and since I needed one I edited a picture the best I could one Thursday night.

My entry into the 10th Anniversary card contest

My entry into the 10th Anniversary card contest

The contest rules were simple: the picture with most “Likes” on Facebook would win.  I hit the ground running, promoted to all my social media groups, my friends, and things went nicely.  For a while I was winning, and my ego was safely intact. But the contest lasted four weeks, and in that time I lost focus.  I had big opportunities I had to take, a family emergency to deal with, and I stopped promoting the picture while my competitors went on overdrive.  I found myself behind, but forced myself to do one more push for “Likes” as I was in second place.

Perhaps my lack of enthusiasm came through to everyone on the internet because I was not progressing forward, I was not receiving many “Likes” and began to feel as if I was losing a popularity contest.  If losing in sports does a number on my ego, losing in “popularity” wrecks havoc.

The thought of losing something so visible as in a Facebook contest was terrorizing.  I mean, not only was I losing, but my friends and everyone that voted for my picture was losing.  I felt like I was failing me, them, everyone. Yet what actually failed was my ability to recognize that while this seemed like a big deal to me, no one that “Liked” my picture had a vested interest other than doing me a favor!

As I fell further behind, life got more complicated and in my mind I quit and stopped promoting all together.  I was going to quietly fade away out of the competition. Until the last day, when I was impossibly behind, some friends decided to do a final push even though it was futile.  My first reaction was to stop them; I didn’t want to make my loss even more visible than it already was on Facebook but I actually heard the words my friend told me “ this is not who we are, we don’t give up, we die trying.” And to push the analogy even further down a bad path: this war was already lost.

Yet she inspired me to keep trying and on that final day I shared the picture yet again on my channels knowing full well a win would be impossible and at the end of the day I wasn’t even close to third place.  Now here’s the thing: I wasn’t mortified.

The great cards submitted to anniversary photo contest

I lost, and instead of trying to protect my fragile ego I saw my friends who pushed for me, those who liked the picture, and was grateful.

Once I accepted I had lost guess what? Losing wasn’t terrible.  I was happy for my sponsor who had a great promotion and I knew several of the winners.  My massively visible failure was not something to be ashamed of, and in truth, no one but me probably gave a damn.

In this very public loss came a very private victory.  Instead of feeling like I lost a popularity contest, I felt yet another victory over my sometimes self-defeating pride.

I’m not saying that I have released myself from my ego but I’ve made huge strides. And remembering this can decrease my start line anxiety. IronMan already is not a competition against a person or a time, and I hesitate to call anything in IronMan a failure, but if I had to, it would be not crossing the finish line.

And what if I fail? What if something happens and I don’t finish? I will be sad because I have invested a lot of time and energy on this, I will have strong emotions because it would undoubtedly be a huge disappointment, but I won’t be embarrassed that I shared this journey so publicly only to fall short at the finish line.

Last person to cross the finish line in the Triatlo Longo de Caminha ... best race of my life.

Last person to cross the finish line in the Triatlo Longo de Caminha … still felt like a winner.

Because IronMan Florida hasn’t been about the medal though getting it would be a fairy tale ending.  What drove me this year has not been winning, placing, qualifying or beating an estimated time. It has been about the suiting up, showing up, and passing every level of “uncomfortable” I have encountered to get to a new stronger version of me.  I took this challenge head on, and I was open to every lesson I’ve learned. One of those is that it’s better to compete and lose, than to not compete at all.

8 days to go.

3 thoughts on “The Non Compete Athlete

  1. Aargh – this post makes me nervous. The day is long in Ironman and while I, like you, will never win I think it is key to have a solid vision of that finish line in sight all day long. Keep that mental image sharply in focus because without it you may be tempted to stop. But don’t stop. Keep going and you’ll get there – you really will.

    In the words of my favorite runner philosopher John Bingham. The miracle isn’t that I finished. It’s that I had the courage to start.

  2. I can see where you are coming from Amy … but I am not known to quit. Especially after I raised $5000 for the Parkinson foundation from people who believed I can do this thing. I am competing, but knowing its really not the end of the world makes me relax a bit! Thank you for reading and posting this …. it gives me food for thought.

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