my first triathlon: getting out of my own way

I was going back over some old writing and came across something that holds true even after six years. It’s a bit long, but a significant part of my journey. Perhaps you can relate to the idea of getting out of your own way:

 

I recently entered and finished my first triathlon. It was a short distance event so I was confident that I could finish as long as I didn’t push myself too hard early on, but I had no way to judge how well I would do. An hour thirty-nine minutes and some seconds later I finished a strong third in my age group, only two seconds out of second place and three or so minutes from first. I’m not sure I can convey in words how pleased I was with my finish or how pleased I was that I was pleased. You see, in the past I would have had a much different attitude about the event and about my results.

 

There are several lessons I take from my success in this event that have strong parallels in success in the rest of my life.

 

  1. I entered. This may sound minor, but was a huge step. I am a semi-reformed perfectionist and would not have entered a triathlon even a short time ago. The philosophy of “if you are going to do something, do it right” was often distorted in my mind to “if you can’t do something right, don’t do it.” I had not swam in 20 years and was not good at it way back when. To enter this event I had to let go of my perfectionist ideals, accept where my skills were, and take responsibility for developing my skills.
  2. I gave myself time to prepare. Once I make a decision I typically want to follow through on it RIGHT THEN. Instead, I selected an event that was several months out to give myself time to properly prepare.
  3. I did not over-train. In the months between deciding to do a triathlon and the actual event I did a lot of traveling and working and was quite ill for a couple of weeks. In the past I would have compensated for this by pushing myself to the point of exhaustion and injury. This time, I created a flexible plan and stuck to that plan as well as I could and accepted when I couldn’t.
  4. I allowed time to taper and recover. “Tapering” is reducing the amount of exercise before an event to allow the body to rest and recover. A comment by a former world-class triathlete resonated for me: It’s better to be 10% under-trained than 1% over-trained. Instead of fretting and trying to get one more workout in, I took almost a week off before the event and then took off another week after to allow time to rest and recover. Previously, I would have exercised right up to and immediately after a race.
  5. I had no expectations – I focused on purpose, not outcome. Having never entered a triathlon meant that I had zero expectations for outcomes beyond doing my best and learning what I could.
  6. I enjoyed my results and did not get caught up in the misery of the perfectionist trap of “if only” and “I could/should have done better.” This learning is a fantastic milestone for my personal development. This is one of the first big events of my life that I did not dismiss, downplay, or even beat myself up because I could have done it better. Because anything can always be done better I have deprived myself of much joy and celebration over the years and it would have been very easy to kick myself over the two seconds between myself and second place. Instead I chose to look at the long-term learning rather than defining my life by one instance. Long-term, I gained some great knowledge that will serve me well in every triathlon from here on out.
  7. I compared myself to no one but myself. This is a big one because not too long ago I would have brooded over not being able to set the same time as the experts, nevermind other people in my age group. This time I was able to let go of all of that and enjoy the knowledge that I did my absolute best for the knowledge, ability, and experience that I currently have.

 

Connections to facilitation:

If you replace “triathlon” with “facilitation” (or almost anything that I’ve done) you get a pretty good snapshot of where I was as a facilitator even a year ago and where I am headed. I tended to:

  • Demand instant results from myself. There is a huge difference between setting challenging goals and expecting to meet those goals immediately without allowing time for growth, development, and learning.
  • Drive myself to frustration and exhaustion by over-preparing. While it is critical to be prepared and confident, I often undermined my confidence with 11th hour preparation and would enter the session feeling frazzled and off a roll.
  • Be very focused on outcome instead of purpose. I typically set artificial measures for myself and would forget about why I’m a facilitator, would neglect the joy of the experience, forget that it is a process and abuse myself when every participant didn’t have massive and immediate shifts. In being focused on outcomes I would see myself in degrees of weakness and get very frustrated that I was not immediately at the level of my mentors, nevermind their greater knowledge, ability, and experience.
  • Push myself in mind, body, and spirit by arriving at sessions weary from travel and over-preparation, giving it my all, and then arriving home exhausted and strung out on sugar and caffeine from trying to stay awake while traveling. I would then get about three hours of sleep and expect to immediately be in top form the next day.

 

In retrospect, it is easy to see how I was limiting myself, but the painful irony is that I got results. My perfectionism and drive created success, but several times in my life I’ve hit plateaus or even gone into decline because after reaching a certain point of success, the harder I push the more I limit myself and the worse I do so I compensate by pushing harder, which leads to stalling out and then a downward spiral. In other words, what made me successful at one level actually prevented future development and success.

 

I have been improving over time with letting go of my perfectionism and focus on outcome and my progress is really underscored for me with this triathlon. Going forward I’ll be focusing even more on:

  • My purpose and doing my best. By removing artificial measures and expectations I am much more likely to relax, have fun, and be at my best than if I stress over outcomes. Ironically, this will lead to much greater outcomes.
  • Having a specific plan and purpose for my development whenever I’m practicing rather than putting in time and practicing just to practice. Exercising (and resting and recovering) with focus and purpose creates much faster and more sustainable results and it stands to reason that the same is true with facilitation.
  • Having a specific plan and purpose for my development in each session.
  • Looking to my long-term results and development.
  • Treating each session like an athletic event by allowing time to taper and recover. I want to enter each session fresh and rested in mind, body, and spirit and then allow myself time to recover once I’m home again. Recovery may be a day off or could just be acknowledging that I won’t be at my best. After all, I might go for a bike ride the day after a triathlon but would not expect to break any personal records so why should I expect different from my ability to work?

 

One thing I know for sure is that I have not fully appreciated the depth of these realizations. Although I am excited about applying this learning I know that these are key lessons that I will continue to get at deeper and deeper levels. I welcome any insights about the shifts that you are experiencing as you become better and better in your own life.

 

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2 comments

  1. Hey what a great story! Would love to do a tri too! I’ve only done the 5k runs which I enjoyed! Its just such a good atmosphere on these events! I”ve bought myself a new road bike but am not a strong swimmer so will probably never do a tri… anyway, good on you 🙂 hope you find my page inspiring too carolinebakker.com

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  2. Caroline, thanks so much for taking the time to comment. If you like the idea of doing a tri, and you can swim well enough to not drown, then you’ll be fine. The event I did was 800m swim in a pool. I was in the last third out of the water and then spent the rest of the race passing people. Everyone was super encouraging. But really, the highlight of the event was getting past all my reasons for not doing it and just getting it done. BTW – really liked your “about” page. It sounds like you have an awesome attitude about life and are up to big things. Rock on!

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