My best? I was shooting for mediocre!!!

Thanks to elite triathlete Kimberley Westbury for the pic!

I always tell my kids, “just try your best!” So I was recently confronted with a great philosophical dilemma, can you try your best to not do your best? No, I’m not sandbagging. To be upfront, I’m not a guy who is accustomed to being on the podium. I’ve been there once, in six seasons, and it was in a duathlon (with a very small field.) So no, this is not a veiled attempt to explain a poor performance (I’ll be more blatant with those).  This was just one brain twister of a race.

The super short background – I pulled/strained a hamstring during a training run several weeks ago, and since then have struggled to eek out even a short run.  The week before my race, after seeing my sports therapist, I was able to muster a pain free 15 minute run.  Anything more than that and the back of my leg turned to stone.

I had already paid for the race, and being cheap, nothing, not even having only one healthy leg, would stop me from getting my money’s worth or seeing good friends and coming home with yet another race T-shirt to add to my collection (I estimate my wardrobe is now about 95% wicking attire)

This race required a brand new strategy – I knew I could not feed my normal delusions.  The main one being that despite my lack of training hours or genetic giftedness,  I would somehow, someway, find my way onto the podium this time.  Is that “Eye of the Tiger” I hear playing in the background?  Although it pretty much never pans out that way, it does motivate me!  My other goal, somewhat more realistic, it to try to set a new PR each year at the races I repeat.  Still, the point of this goal is probably to feed yet another delusion – I’m not really getting older.

Anyway, the race.  Wetsuit legal, so a good thing for me.  Since rubber floats I would not have to kick much which would save my legs for at least 1/3 of the event.  I jumped in the lake for a warm-up swim and felt surprisingly good.  So good that I started to think about maybe just having a PR in the swim this time ;-).  I am a decent swimmer as far as triathletes go, usually finishing near the top of the swim for my age group.  The start horn sounded, and off I go right in the front of the pack!  About 5 strokes in I feel something around my ankle!  Ugh, my timing chip was about to fall off.  Not wanting to plunk out $35 to the race director for a replacement (cheap, remember?), or practice my diving skills in Lake Hartwell, I decided to just roll over and fix it.  I did so, and at that exact moment remembered I was still at the front of the pack.  I was greeted immediately by about 1000 flailing arms all ready to pound me into the lake.  Brilliant.  I’m not sure how I managed to duck out of that one, but after a lot of fiddling around I finally got it tucked under the leg of my wetsuit and off I went again.

After spending the swim playing catchup, it was time for the bike.  I LOVE the bike. I also like climbing hills on my bike, but no, no, not today.  I was going to be a very good boy.  My legs were already starting to feel tight and I was just getting started.  At every hill I could feel them tense up, on the verge of cramping.  I was still nice and consistent on the flats, but I just sat back and watched everyone pass me on the hills.  I think a kid on a big wheel might have passed me once.  A mentally painful ride.

Finally it was time for the run.  Any hopes for a PR were gone like last nights leftover pizza, so all I had to do was survive.  Survive I did.  It was not until the finishing chute that I met my greatest challenge.  Someone was coming up behind me.  People were shouting, “don’t let him pass you!”  It was a college student in his first race, and eager to pass anyone.  It wouldn’t affect my age group placement, it wouldn’t affect my finish time.  BUT MY EGO, MY EGO WAS IN DANGER.  I only needed to sprint for about 20 feet.  There was plenty in the tank, and I could come close to doubling my speed.  AND AT THE VERY LAST SECOND….I just let him pass me.  That was very hard.  But smart I think, because I risked locking up or further injuring my hamstring and really putting myself out of commission.

I would have to say it was a good race.  I loved spending time with my triathlon buddies and making new acquaintances.  God was very good to me, and let me finish without further injury, or real pain.  And I learned a good lesson about priorities and not getting caught up in the heat of the moment.  I sacrificed some temporary satisfaction at the finish line, hopefully in return for some greater rewards later on.  I think there are some life lessons in that.  Sacrifice is a discipline I could always use practice with.  Now, is that “Eye of the Tiger” I hear in the background?

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