Go to any road race, triathlon, or other competitive event where the results are based on speed. At the start of the race, just about everyone has their finger poised over their sports watch, ready to start their timer at the exact second the race officially starts. As people cross the finish line, they throw up their arms in jubilation - and then immediately stop their timer.
The bottom line for success at races is your time. Did you set a new PR (personal record)? Did you place in the top 3 in your age group? Maybe you placed in the top 3 overall and won a very cool prize. Were you faster than last year?
Everything revolves around the time.
Yesterday I competed in the Vermont Sun Triathlon in Brandon, VT. I was one of those folks who compulsively started my watch at the exact moment the starter yelled “Go!”. As soon as I crossed the finish line, I stopped my watch and looked at my time.
I felt really good during this tri. Unline other years, the swim went really well. No panic, no swallowed water, no bumping into other swimmers. I rode the bike leg with great intensity, focusing on keeping my cadence high and hydrating. My legs felt strong as I started the run. Usually my leg muscles are tired and complain bitterly about being asked to run after biking for 14 miles, but yesterday they cooperated completely. I’m the fastest on the run part of tris, and as I passed people I told them how great they looked, commented on the beautiful course, and focused on catching the next person in front of me. I even sprinted at the finish!
Overall, it was a fantastic race for me - but what about my time? When I checked the race results today, I was listed as “DNF” - did not finish. Wait - I finished! My husband and several women from the Green Mountain Girls tri group saw me finish! How do I know how I did without an official time?
Jerrod Rushton, the unflappable and superb race director of the tri responded immediately to my panicked email. Within 2 hours, my official race results were posted. Elation on feeling great after the race settled into doom: I was slower than last year. Racers live by the clock, and the clock doesn’t lie: I’m getting slower even though I felt great and pushed myself hard.
After a few deep breaths and some thought, I came upon this revelation: so what? What difference does it really make if my 2011 tri finish was slower than the 2010 time? I had a ton of fun, smiling the entire way (well, maybe not during the swim because it’s hard to smile with your face in the water). I pushed myself during each of the three tri legs and worked at what felt like a high intensity. My husband even told me I looked fantastic at the finish, and he’s seen me completely wiped out and feeling horrible at the end of many races.
Maybe the true test of a great race isn’t the finish time, but rather the process and the event itself.
Perhaps this revelation applies to other goals in our life:
- Does it really matter how much weight we lose each week in a weight loss program if we’re feeling good and meeting our exercise and food choice goals?
- At the end of a busy work day, should I judge my performance based on the number of items I crossed off my to-do list, or on the quality of the work I produced and the satisfaction of my clients?
- Do I rate myself on the quality of my housekeeping (sadly lacking) or on having a comfortable and welcoming home?
- Should I look back at all the mistakes I made raising our children, or be content that they’re productive, responsible, happy young adults?
I bet each of you can add to this list. What I learned from this tri is that the experience is even more important than the outcome. I may not have finished as fast as last year, but I had a whole lot of fun and gained great satisfaction from the event. That doesn’t mean I won’t keep setting goals to increase my speed, to improve my work habits, or become a better mom, wife, and friend. I’ll just make sure to take time to stop, breathe deeply, and enjoy the experience.