Culture

Beginner’s Luck: Slow Down, This Should Be Fun

You never know what great things may happen as a result.

“You never know what great things may happen…”

I raced Ironman 70.3 Augusta for the fourth time a few weeks ago. I had registered last year, but as the race and season progressed, I decided that I would not race. Also, I had the Marine Corps Marathon coming up as a wheelchair pusher with the Kyle Pease Foundation, so I was focusing on that. However, about six weeks out, I dropped a bomb that every triathlon coach just loves—“Hey coach, I’m going to add on that 70.3 race afterall.”

Insert coach eyeroll and heart-attack here.

I went after the race with zero time expectations or goals. I know people say that all the time, but I really did. After mile 2 of the run, I decided to switch my run/walk intervals and I turned off my watch completely to restart it, and re-do the intervals. My point is—if you care are about time and data, you don’t turn off your watch in a race.

When I came in at 7:06 on the clock, I realized it was my third slowest half iron to date, which for a moment bummed me out—but just for a moment. Because it was my second most joyful half—only my first being the greatest.

Why?

After seven years in the sport, I had a pulling, tugging feeling that I needed to be competitive. I tried hard to do that, but I also realized also that I was fairly “talentless” in triathlon. I felt “less than a triathlete” when I didn’t feel the fire to get better or have a burning desire for time goals or podium—or when I worked uber hard in training, only to run myself into shoulder injuries and stress fractures. As a result of the ups and downs, I wasn’t feeling competitive this year—to the point where I didn’t even want to race.

Deep down, I am a competitive person, but I realized that racing for the sheer joy of the experience and the finish, like I did in my first, had been long lost on me; then when I was not competitive I felt like, “Well maybe I shouldn’t even show up.”

Someone once told me, “Race because it’s fun” and I thought that was a little nuts, because triathlon is an awful lot of hard work for “just fun”. However, in Augusta this year, I heeded those words of advice, and I really enjoyed myself at the race.

When someone in the crowd would say, “Hey Swim Bike Mom!” I would say hi and sometimes even stop to talk to them. I hugged my kids in the crowed. I chatted with other racers who were walking or having bad days. As a result, I was going slow enough and conscious enough to see a fellow athlete who was crying on the run course. I stopped and threw my arm around her, and said, “Hey are you doing the best you can, right now?” She said, “Yes.” And I said, “Then what else can you do? You are doing great, keep going,” and I trotted off.

(Literally, a trot. Ha.)

My coach, Gerry Halphen, said those same words to me back in May before St. Anthony’s Triathlon—to ask myself if I was doing the best I could during the race, and if the answer was yes, then that’s all we can ask of ourselves. I passed those words of wisdom on to this runner. I didn’t think anything of it at the time, but after the race the athlete tagged me in a group and said that those words meant so much to her. I was stunned, but thankful too—because if I had been out there pushing and beating myself up as I usually do, I would have missed this chance to see her and pay forward those words that have meant so much to me.

While I know racing for the vast majority is about time and getting faster and better, I challenge you (if you are one of these folks)—whether this season or next—to take just one race coming up and do it for the joy, for the help of others, and yes—even for fun.

You never know what great things may happen as a result.

Meredith Atwood (@SwimBikeMom) is a recovering attorney, motivational speaker and author of Triathlon for the Every Woman. You can download a free copy of the book here. She is the host of the iTunes podcast, “The Same 24 Hours,” a show which interviews interesting people who make the best of the 24 hours in each day. Meredith lives in Atlanta with her husband and two children, and writes about all things at MeredithAtwood.com