After the first three events of the year, I am convinced more than ever that bad luck can lead to good things.
At the first event of the year, the Albany Half Marathon, I got 34th out of 728 competitors. That is a top 5% finish. The second event, I got 33rd out of 74 competitors, putting me somewhere in the middle. In the third event, I got first place in my age group and 24th out of 280+ entrants.
In college, our teachers graded us on a curve. They claimed it best represented how the real world would judge us once we left the ivory towers. Grading on a curve means there is no set number that equals excellence. Your grade comes from how well you did in comparison to everyone else. The class average is deemed a C+ or B-. If you do better than the average, you get a better grade than the average. On some exams, a grade of 70 might earn you a mark of A, whereas on other days, that same score might be a grade of D. Throughout my brief athletic career, I have very much adopted that same style of grading my results. Once I cross the finish line, the first grade I seek is my position in regards to everyone else…not what my times were.
Applying that method to these first three races would mean a grade of A for race one and three and a grade of B- for the middle event. Indeed, in the last event, I was barely in the top half.
I am most proud of my efforts in the 2nd race. This crazy sort of claim deserves some explanation.
The first event was a half-marathon. I most certainly didn’t push myself to the limit, and I was able to talk with others after finishing and was driving home after the event within an hour.
Two weeks later, I entered the Hagan Stone duathlon. I finished in the middle of the crowd and can’t be prouder.
The unexpected reset my thinking. During the bike portion of the event, my front tire went flat. Before the race, I decided not to carry a spare tube with me…I decided that two 8-mile loops didn’t warrant a spare tire. I equated carrying a spare tube for that short of an event like taking 4 pairs of underwear for an overnight sleepover when you are already constipated.
Dumb thinking…I am good at this.
Once I noticed that the front was flat, I gave up racing. I pulled over and paused for a few moments to ponder my bad luck. Throughout the race, there were only a handful of people in front of me. After I stopped and putting my feet on the ground, I watched those who were behind me proceed ahead. Nearly all held grimacing looks on their face as the powered up a hill that was biting into their legs. As the athletes passed, one by one, I shook my head and bummed out. After a few moments of this, I got up off my pity potty, and pedaled back to the start of the race, about a mile and a half away. I turned the bike around and went as slowly as I could back to the transition area. I most certainly didn’t want to damage my wheels, and riding on the road with uninflated tires can ruin a carbon wheel in a heartbeat. I tried to convince myself that this wasn’t a big deal, as this was intended to be a training event for the big races coming up later in the year…that is what I was telling myself.
The new plan was to push the bike into transition, put on my shoes and do the final run, for the training effect. This new plan lasted exactly 12 minutes. Once I got back to the race start, Rich, the race director saw my predicament and ran towards me offering the wheel off of his bike. I felt like the prodigal son returning home with the father running down the road, offering me a fattened calf that I did not deserve. Within literally a few seconds of saying, “OK,” his wheel was on my bike and I was heading back onto the course.
“Thank you, God,” was all I could come up with to express my gratitude for the assistance. Moments earlier, I was all but resigned to stop trying. In the next moment, I found myself riding literally at 100+% for my 2nd lap. Mid lap, it dawned on me that I haven’t gone 100+% since the start of the year. I most certainly wasn’t at 100+% during the first half-marathon, nor have I trained at 100+% for more than a handful of minutes all year.
It took a flat tire for me to recognize that I wasn’t really trying to get better in the off season. I had gotten complacent, blaming my “take it easy” approach to a lack of daylight, colder outside temperatures and who knows what else.
During the 2nd bike loop, I got to overtake many of the people that passed me when I down and out. Many of those that I didn’t catch on the bike I caught on the run. After the race was over, I was sore. This pain was a good pain. It came from pushing hard, and it felt distant, as it had been a while since I had given World Championship-level effort.
For the next few weeks, I decided that complacency was over. I have since upped my effort on my stationary bike workouts – I can now sustain 30 more watts than I last year…and I probably have been able to do it all year, but never had tried and didn’t know. I took this “try harder” thinking to the weight room. I have added plates and reps across all machines. A few months ago, I could only do 4 chin-ups before starting to fatigue. This week, I did 10 chin ups, twice in a 90-second window. I don’t think I have ever been able to do that.
Fast forward to yesterday. I ran a half marathon trail race and came in 1st place. During the final mile, I knew I had 10 minutes on the next guy in my group. My response was to push hard at the end of the trail race, and I achieved a sub 6-minute mile. That speed for one mile, on a road, would normally make anyone proud, as the half marathon is considered a distance event that includes pacing and strategy. A sub 6-minute mile, after running 12 miles, on a trail…well, of course I was sore!
And to think it took a flat tire, deflated confidence and unanticipated help to get to me try hard again.
Thank God for flat tires.