Never Done: I completed an Olympic length triathlon (1.5K swim, 40K bike, 10K run)
I thought I was going to title this post, "A supposedly fun thing I'll never do again" with apologies to David Foster Wallace, but, surprisingly, there were a few fun parts about the triathlon. I liked the most of the biking, with a few notable highlights. (I'll get to them in a bit.) And I loved seeing my friends cheer me on. And I laughed once when I was going up the biggest, longest hill in Central Park, because one of the Manhattan coaches made a joke about me being from Brooklyn. Maybe that wasn't exactly fun, but it was nice to be remembered.
Most of all though, the big takeaway (lesson learned, growth, positive outcome) of this entire endeavor is that I finally finally finally learned that you can't measure six months of success based on one day's performance. I am such a competitive person that it took something very big (and at times arduous) to teach me this lesson. As I told a friend recently, if I think all my hard work is only of value if I perform a certain way on the day of the race, then I'm seriously fucked. This is one of those lessons that I knew intellectually but really needed to live through to completely internalize. And here's how it went.
The swim was tough. The race was delayed by about 30 minutes because a car flipped at 158th Street and spilled oil everywhere, and they had to clear it before we could start. When we got into the water (at 96th Street) it was extremely choppy, on top of sizable swells. I did fine -- swam the 1.5 K in 21 minutes (with an assist from the current) but I did swallow one big mouthful of nasty Hudson water, and I also just endured the swim -- I didn't enjoy the swim. I did like the very end, when an impressive team of people literally lifted me (and all the swimmers) up the steep ramp and out of the water.
It was raining when I got on the bike -- and for most of my ride. Our coaches told us it would slow us down -- that it should slow us down, because we should ride with caution -- but somehow I rode about 10 minutes faster than I had predicted I would. As I went past Inwood Park, I got to think about my dad, who grew up there, and ran in that park as a teenager and young adult. As I went over the Henry Hudson Bridge, I got to look right at the apartment building Josh grew up in, and I yelled out my greetings to his mom, even though she doesn't live there anymore. We rode from 72nd Street up the West Side Highway to Moshulu Parkway, where we turned around and rode down to 56th Street, and back up to 72nd. I remembered to end the bike ride with an easy spin, to get my legs ready to run, but still -- as soon as I started to run, my left calf started to cramp up.
This didn't come as a surprise, but it was a disappointment. I had stretched it and stretched it, gotten a massage the day before that focused mostly on my left leg, I was drinking lots of electrolyte drink. In other words, I was doing everything I could do -- but that reconfigured leg (8 knee surgeries) was just not happy to get off a long bike ride and start running. This is the part where the lesson comes in. I had not enjoyed the swim, but I had rocked it. I had also rocked the bike ride. And now I had to stop every 2-3 minutes to stretch my left calf muscle, while encouraging people yelled things like, "You're looking good! Almost done!" (No I'm not. I have completed about .2 miles of a 6.2 mile run.) But instead of moping -- or quitting -- I just gave myself permission to stop and stretch it as often as I needed to, and to walk up the hills, and run down the hills and on the flats, and to try my best to relax. And you know what? At about mile 4, it started to release. It wasn't perfect, but it was better. And just about the same time, I noticed that I might be able to make it in under 4 hours. At first I tried to talk myself out of any attachment to any measurable results, but by then the sun was out, and it was hot, and I was almost completely spent -- so I allowed myself a little comfortable competitiveness -- as an incentive for the final 20 minutes. And so I pushed the final 2 miles, and finished strong, and finished depleted, and finished in 3 hours and 48 minutes.
And I knew that wasn't the point. Because if it had taken me 4 hours and 22 minutes, I would have still worked as hard and learned as much. And the honest truth is -- more than the physical accomplishment, I am proud of (finally) internalizing this value.