Essentially, I threw in the towel. I realized that I didn't really intend to get back to it until after the weekend. Even if I got some sleep, I was so far behind and work was so busy that I was going to need to focus for a few days. It is the right decision but I hate feeling like I gave up.
I was reading through some of the blogs that I follow, trying to live vicariously, and I came across one that is written by an older competitor whose accomplishments include a multiple winning seasons and Kona finishes. He religiously lists his mileage in detail as do several other bloggers of varying levels of experience. I found myself wondering why I rarely mention hard data in this blog. More specifically, why I avoid hard data in this blog.
For me, the triumph is in the abstract. I hear people say that a 10 min mile pace is not even running (you know who you are) and I immediately wonder if I will ever be good enough. For me, it is hauling ASS!! I have never been a good runner. Now if people who are every bit the athlete that I am or more but lack a strong swimming background were to look at my swim times, they might feel the same way. If the most you have ever done on a bicycle is 30 miles, 25 feels like 1000. For one person, losing 40 lbs is two dress sizes, for another two dress sizes is 10 lbs. It's all totally relative but that can be hard to see when you are looking at someone else's data and inevitably comparing it to your own.
What is universal is the struggle, the love, the obsession, the humor, everything intangible that makes an athlete an athlete, no matter how far down that road they may be. When I did that half-marathon, there were people stretched out for miles along that course, each struggling in their own way, at their own pace and one persons struggle was not more or less just because it happened faster.
The front runners know they belong, they are enjoying accolades and focused on their goals and PR's. Their work is cut out for them but it is clear what they are there to do. They have to dig deep, find the strength to put forth their best effort even when their body is telling them exactly where they can shove those goals. There is pressure on them to perform from sponsors, coaches, family and friends, crowd expectations, and most of all themselves. Those type A personalities will not accept anything less than their best without a huge dose of self-abuse.
The stragglers at the back who's triumph is to reach the finish line often have a great deal of moral support, which is good since they probably stopped feeling their legs an hour ago. There is a mental challenge that comes with being on course for hours and hours. Any Ironman can tell you about that. The suffering of a slow runner is not determined by their pace relative to the field. It is by their pace relative to their fitness. Often times, the person slogging along at a 12 min pace is giving a greater percentage of their total capacity than a faster runner who understands pacing. That 12 min miler is going to be out there, running their engine in the red for twice the amount of time. That takes a degree of determination and mental fortitude that should neither be dismissed or patronized. It should be respected.
And everyone in between is out their fighting their own battles, slaying their own demons, overcoming their own odds. To compare numbers is to discredit the one thing they all have in common, they put themselves out there, literally and figuratively. I know what it feels like to carry the weight of a ten year old child around on my back. Every step can be torturous. It's not so much the physical suffering that is bad, it's the lack of result from that magnitude of suffering. If no one ever told me that a 10 min mile was slow, then I would be very happy that I have taken a couple of mins off my pace. But as it is, I stare at that watch aghast at my total lack of ability in this arena.
No one follows your race results or writes an article about you for finishing mid to rear pack. No one, save maybe a supportive family member or spouse is going to notice when you cross that 5K finish line in 35 mins. If you've ever gone to a track practice and run along with all of your team/club mates blowing by you over and over, mumbling encouragement that (is probably genuine) but feels hollow and patronizing (like I need encouragement to SUCK THIS MUCH. Thanks.) and found a way to push that out of your head step after step. There is a mental fortitude in this as well. There is a victory here that can't be measured by data.
Success comes with time, consistency, and daily baby steps. It is not magically imbued at birth or at any other point. Some people admittedly start running the day they can walk and therefore have bodies that are capable of greater speed the first time they measure it, but make no mistake, they had to take all the steps to get there that anyone else does and if you have given yourself a burden to carry (extra weight, smoking, etc) or life has imposed one on you (injury, handicap, illness, etc) then each of those steps will be exponentially more difficult and to keep from falling, they will have to be tiny, tiny steps. One day, however, you will look back and realize that you have become strong enough and skilled enough at balancing your burdens that the steps you are taking are becoming first full sized, then leaps, then wings.
My former roommate who competes as an elite once said, "I don't think I am a better athlete than you. I just think I have been doing it longer." That was the best thing that anyone has ever told me. There was no condescension, no empty cheerleading, just a simple observation of fact that gave me infinite hope.
I have made a few friends through blogging, some are much more talented than I am, some are comparable, some are fairly early in their training. If I compare numbers there would be all kind of differences, a gulf of difference between us. But instead, by focusing on the abstract, mental, emotional, and occasionally funny aspects of being a triathlete (or runner, swimmer, cyclist, whatever), I am able to see what we have in common.