greatest limiting factor in our performance is pride.
There is an Arabic saying: “Pride goes out on horseback,
and comes back on foot.”
we could just set our pride aside, imagine the possibilities…
If we weren’t so afraid of looking stupid.
of the times fear of looking bad has kept you
from doing something. Think of the times making an idiot
out of yourself have stopped you from entering an event
or trying something new.
was a fat kid. Not just overweight, but so fat they put
me in a special education physical education class. It
was humiliating. At the age of thirteen a guy is just
starting to notice girls and just becoming somewhat self-aware.
Being put in the special ed. gym class at that age was
the worst of humiliations. What I didn’t realize
was the experience would teach me things, if I was open
to learning them. Over thirty years later I’m glad
they put me in that class.
lesson I learned was that progress is usually accompanied
by embarrassment. You can be as cool as you want, but
being cool usually accomplishes nothing. If you want to
move forward, sooner or later you have to take a chance
at looking foolish or out of place. Humiliation is a valve
you pass through on the way to growth.
majority of the world is not like you and I. It isn’t
as though we don’t make asses of ourselves. I do
on a more regular basis than I’d like to. And you
already know we aren’t better than the rest of the
world, us athlete-participants. The difference between
us and the rest of the world is that one morning we woke
up and said, “I don’t care. I’m doing
something for myself no matter how asinine I look doing
it.” And then we did it. Most of us kept doing it.
We’ve done it long enough maybe we sometimes make
it look polished now. But we still fear the ultimate limiter:
the beginning of this year I had a lot on my plate. We
moved our business, which has been growing rapidly. I
got married. I bought a house. I traveled. In the mix
training got lost and I put on weight. I don’t like
that version of myself. It is a little too close to the
kid in the special ed gym class.
an early season race a friend snapped a photo of me and
posted it on one of favorite internet forums. I didn’t
like what I saw. There was a good sized roll around my
waist and, as another friend put it, I looked “doughy”.
They were right, and I’m glad they posted the photo
for me (and everyone else) to see. I was going soft. It
was humiliating. The kid was back.
are a wonderful pillow for humiliation to rest on. You
know the standard ones: Everyone gains a little weight
after they get married and get comfortable. Everyone settles
down. Failure and compromise rest easily on the cushion
of excuses. Since that special education gym class my
life has been swimming against the current of sloth and
commonness. I don’t want that kid back. Bottom line:
I got fat, did shitty in a race, got called out and needed
to train more. No excuses.
is no doubt gaining weight changed how I behave. I’m
introspective enough to notice it. For the first time
in my life I tried on race clothes in my basement to see
how I would look before I decided to wear them in a race.
I was worried about looking bad. I considered not racing
because I knew I was not fit enough to place well in my
age category. Bad thoughts were creeping in.
never been a gifted athlete but I am a damned stubborn
one. I’ve done a lot of races; bike races, triathlons,
adventure races, running races- I’ve raced darn
near every kind of human powered race and I’ve done
it on all seven continents for three decades plus. Endurance
sports have been inculcated into my DNA. For better or
worse, they are a part of me. I needed to reconnect with
that and leave the fear of humiliation behind. I mean,
I know I was going to be humiliated…. It already
happened. It was probably a good thing.
hard to describe this reconnection exactly- this transition
from humiliation to something better. You probably understand
yourself since it’s happened to you. That thing
that makes you keep coming back. Somewhere out
there putting one leg in front of the other started to
feel a little better. The pedals stopped pushing back.
The bike felt fast and I felt light on the run. It felt
like I could swim through anything again- maybe not fast,
but it felt like I could swim up Niagara Falls.
entered races this year, I did races, about seven triathlons
in all up to the end of July. I had a few brushes with
decent races but nothing really satisfying. I entered
the Ford Ironman 70.3 Whirlpool Steelhead Triathlon. This
was going to be my big race in Michigan for the year.
Along with nearly 2000 other people I jumped off the pier
in St. Joseph, Michigan and managed to put together a
decent day. I wasn’t racing per se’, I was
just participating. I didn’t have the fitness or
strength to make decisions about how fast I would go or
whom I would catch on the run. I simply went the pace
I could and enjoyed the race. It was a good day in one
of the world’s best races, but I was just a passenger.
in the year my wife Sarah and I did the Accenture Escape
from Alcatraz Triathlon in San Francisco. I felt rotten
before the race, worse in the race. You could compress
the pain from any ten races into the space of that race
and it would have still hurt worse. Joint pain, dizziness,
headache. I was running a temperature before the race.
Alcatraz has been voted the best triathlon in the world
by magazine readers but for me it was hard time on the
rock. It’s a difficult race to get into because
of its popularity so if you do get a spot in the race
you don’t dare call in sick. Great race, terrible
day for me. I came home from San Francisco with my tail
between my legs. That is where the picture was taken-
the fat picture. Steelhead was a completely different
day, and I actually did move through the race comfortably
and enjoyed the day. It wasn’t humiliating, but
it wasn’t that experience I was looking for. I felt
like a beginner again, and that was a good place to start.
Steelhead I thought for a while about pride and humiliation.
In the information age our race results are on the net,
around the world, 24/7 for all to see. If you have a rotten
day you simply can’t crawl under a rock. It’s
there for all to see. My race at Steelhead was as fast
as I could go, but that wasn’t all that fast. It
certainly wasn’t humiliating, but it wasn’t
what I really wanted. I was trapped in that netherworld
between risk of humiliation and having that really good,
breakthrough day you only get maybe once a year. I remember
being on the bike at Steelhead thinking, “Slow down…
take it easy out here. You never know how you will feel
in an hour when you are half way through the run.”
As it turns out that was likely a wise strategy given
my fitness at the time, but it was also the strategy of
a person frightened of humiliation.
transition from fear of humiliation to the, “I don’t
care if I look stupid- I’m going for it.”
mindset is like a prize fish; elusive. You never know
when you will catch it and it seems to slip through your
fingers quite easily if you don’t secure it. It
seems to be associated with the most unlikely of circumstances.
Sunday I landed the fish, and fear of humiliation was
beat back down into its dirty little box.
wife and I were doing technical support for the 26th Annual
Elite Endeavors Sylvania Triathlon about an hour south
of here in Ohio. This race is a classic. It is contested
on perfect country roads over flat terrain between corn
fields in rural Ohio. This is the Midwestern equivalent
of the lava fields. There is really nothing there except
the pavement, the wind and you. Efforts, for better or
worse, tend to be distilled out there in the Ohio farm
fields. There is no place to hide. If you’re on,
you’ll have a good day. If not, you’ll be
about disorganization can produce clarity. My wife Sarah
and I were running a bit late that morning. We barely
had time to set up our technical support for the other
participants, let alone get ready for our own race. We
changed some flats, adjusted some derailleurs, fixed some
bikes and the first wave was getting ready to go off.
I was standing outside the transition area in jeans and
a T-shirt with my entire race garb in my transition bag.
I had maybe five minutes to get ready. There wasn’t
much time to think about being humiliated. A switch flipped
that hadn’t been flipped in over ten years and I
went back to how things were quite some time ago when,
instead of being a participant, I was a racer.
I had something to say about how my race went. I wasn’t
thinking about humiliation. On this morning, I didn’t
have time to worry about humiliation. I barely had time
to set up for the race.
hurried Sunday morning went well, and I did influence
the outcome of my race. I didn’t think once of humiliation,
only of catching the man in front of me with the same
age on his calf. I know this is an inconsequential contest,
the little tussle for third place in the men’s 45-49
age category in a small triathlon in the fields of Ohio,
but it was a battle I joined without fear of failure.
I was racing again, trying to catch the guy in front of
me. It was hard and it felt good. Since it felt good I
wasn’t afraid of looking stupid. And since I wasn’t
afraid I actually had a day I haven’t had in a long
time. I passed through the valve of humiliation to something
that felt better. After nearly twenty five years of doing
this sport I had clawed forward, slipped back, clawed
forward and slipped back again. Today was a day I clawed
forward. The kid was gone again.