Winning At Last
I signed up for the ultra distance in the London Duathlon that took place a couple of weeks ago. The challenge was hard. The ultra duathlon consisted of running 20km (1:38:26), cycling 77km (4:22:38) and finally running 10km (58:30). I finished last in the race.
I don’t recall ever coming in last for anything that I have competed in individually in an athletic event. I have had my fair share of losing and of not finishing various things, but being last is a new experience. I find it particularly interesting since I don’t feel like I have lost anything. Sure enough, I didn’t win the ultra distance in the London Duathlon, but I was not in it to win it and coming in last has not at all left me feeling defeated.
I can conjure up many reasons for not doing better than I had, my training dramatically dropped the last few weeks prior to the event. I am not a cyclist in the competitive sense, so am not used to hours on the bike. My training days alternated from running to cycling and I did not attempt a mock race where I would run, then cycle and run again. The bike I used is not a state of the art road bike (although an experienced unicyclist could have outpaced me). The terrain I train on is not hilly as it was at the event (although this seems to have little impact on my running). There are more excuses and contributing factors that I could consider, but they seem of little importance at this point.
I have experience in running ultra distance events, I have run many in the past few years, some with better success than others but all worth the experience and all with different lessons to be learned. What I enjoy most about ultra distances is the duration (the longest I have been out on a run was for close to 16hrs). Duration allows for a lot of ups and downs, both physically and mentally. My mood will range from excitement to defeat, and my body goes from hungry and thirsty to awake and tired fairly frequently. There are many of the proverbial ‘walls’ and as many chances to overcome them. I generally try to take away a lesson or two from each event, learn from them and then apply them to my training and to life in general. While the events feel very long while I am doing them, they do end quite quickly, especially when I think of the hours of training I’ve put in and in the general context of my life. How quickly the events pass is not unlike the tribulations of life so I try to bear in mind the “life” lessons they offer while labouring away.
While coming in last seems like it should feel discouraging, I am actually quite happy with my accomplishment. I felt very good during the first 20km run, I paced myself knowing that I had a good deal of cycling to do and a second run after that. But after the first of 7 laps of the cycling portion I was ready to give in. Rather than pray for a surge of energy, I asked for a flat tire or a few, a snapped chain or other “out of my control” mechanical bike failure that I could blame for pulling myself out of the event. Instead with each lap, I convinced myself that I could do one more, until I finished them all. It was not easy and I cannot pretend that it came naturally, but with each successive lap it did become more manageable until at last I decided that I may as well just finish the damn thing, to ignore each and every cyclist that passed me (and there were so many…), and to not pass judgement on myself (or others).
So, one painful lap at a time I accepted the pain and pushed myself just a little bit further - instead of having the full distance remaining loom large ahead, I had just to do a bit more. Slowly slowly, not breaking myself, not stretching until I snapped, making careful and deliberate progress. It is not unlike trying to teach a baby to fall asleep alone, or convincing a toddler to get back to a napping schedule, or potty training, or bringing a child to a new school, or trying to be who you were before you had children while trying to be also a passable father, or trying to not be a wholly objectionable husband, or trying to stay close to your family while living too far away. Just one thing at a time, slowly slowly, sometimes shift the pressure here, ease up on that. See what gets you through this lap, and then the next one, and the one after.
As I came into the transition area where I would exchange my bike for my trusty running shoes, the event organiser approached me to see if I wanted to complete the event. At that point I had no doubt that I would, and rather than feel discouraged, I was further emboldened by his enthusiasm that I do. He made sure that race marshals and volunteers continued to cheer me on and even arranged for someone to cycle behind me as I ran (at this point the duathlon was officially over and the roads that we raced on were now open to the public). The race MC and the remainder of the volunteers where there to cheer me on at the finish line allowing me to finish like all other competitors. It was awesome. I finsihed the last 10km run in 58 minutes 30 seconds.
I am proud to say that I did not walk during the runs and did not get off my bike during the cycling leg of the largest duathlon in the world. And, yes, I will be back next year!