Our culture is very goal-oriented. It’s difficult to avoid this mindset, and although I remind myself to enjoy the journey, remind myself it’s not about the destination, I still fall into the usual, accepted way of measuring myself by my accomplishments.
This past weekend, I was participating in my 7th sprint triathlon. Last year was the first year I did 2 in one year; I usually do one annually. I know how to train for them by now, and while I’m not the fastest by a long shot, I give myself a personal goal of trying to best my previous year’s time. Some years, I just beat my time by a few minutes. I am proud to finish and proud to know I got a little better. Growing up, I was never an athlete, and I get a kick out of knowing and calling myself a triathlete now. They also remind me that I can do things I think I can’t.
Sunday morning, the day of the race…I’m feeling good, well-prepared, ready to go. The swim went well, and I found a steady rhythm. I completed the swim in my best time yet, and I headed out on the 14-mile bike course. This course is close to where I live, and I’ve been training on it at least weekly. As the miles pass by, I’m happy with my time and feeling good. I pass mile 8 and then Bam! I hit something and my back tire is flat. I pull over and one of the volunteers who is helping direct traffic helps me patch and reinflate the inner tube. At this point, I’ve lost at least 15 minutes. I’m off again, but within a few yards the tire is flat again. I try one more time to reinflate it, but it doesn’t work. I finally realize I’m going to have to accept that I can’t finish the race and start to walk my bike back.
My thoughts were swirling. The word “forfeit” tasted bitter in my mouth. It sounded like quitting. I don’t want to be a quitter! But of course, there was nothing I could do. I didn’t fail; my equipment failed. I did chastise myself for not having another inner tube or not being able to fix it better. (I learned later that whatever I hit had torn through the rubber tire, too. There was no way I could have fixed it at that point.) And of course, I thought, “Why is this happening to me?”
As I walked along – slowly, as bike shoes aren’t meant for walking – I watched all the other cyclists pass me. Soon, it seemed I was the only one left on the course, so I walked in silence. I noticed the beautiful corn field beside me and noticed and was grateful for the cloud cover above. I was trying to focus on the positive as much as possible, and I was also grateful that I wasn’t physically hurt. I wish I could tell you I was completely peaceful and serene, but I still had some processing to do. I cried a bit when the police officer came and picked me up to drive me back, and I got choked up admitting to the race director that I had to forfeit.
Even when we are completely prepared for something, when we’ve done all we can do, there’s still so much that is out of our control. I realized the other day (many days before the triathlon) that life gives you a series of lessons to teach you you’re really not in control. And then, it’s as if life asks you, how are you going to respond? What are you going to do now? That’s where our control comes in, in our response.