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Crash Course in Disappointment

In the moments between losing control of my bike and hitting the ground, time seemed to slow. While everything probably happened within a split second, I clearly remember a series of thoughts and decisions. My very first thought was, “I can’t believe this is how my race is going to end.” No one wants to endure months of training only to wind up injured, but I was determined to not allow my experiences go to waste. Since I didn’t get to feel the thrill of victory, the least I could do is gain some wisdom that I can use the next time I set a challenging goal for myself. This is what my crash course in disappointment taught me:

Adequate preparation is not a guarantee for success. When I decided to compete in a half-iron distance triathlon, which I wrote about here, I became incredibly committed. I was faithful to my training plan. For months, I went to bed early so that I could rise before the sun. My leisurely Saturday mornings were replaced with hours of some combination of biking, running, and swimming. The result was that I faced race day with a sense of confidence that is unusual for me. I was ready to race, and I knew it. Nothing could stand in my way, or so I thought.

To my advantage, all of my hard work was met with a great combination of external factors. My family all arrived at the race venue to cheer for me (wearing matching “Go Mom Go!” shirts and ringing cowbells, nonetheless). The water temperature was perfect. In all, the day was promising.

Despite all of my preparation, though, I never crossed the finish line. I never received my finisher’s medal. I never got victory hugs from my cheering section. Instead, I crashed my bike and ended my day in the emergency room.

The last couple of weeks have provided opportunity for me to reflect on my disappointment. I’ve shed countless tears and held quite the pity party for myself. In the end, though, I can choose to let this get me down or I can learn from my mistakes, and I choose the latter. I have learned that working really hard and reaching all the milestones along the way may minimize the chance for failure, but it does not guarantee success. Sometimes failure and disappointment happen despite all of our best efforts, and there’s absolutely nothing we can do about it. As a control freak, this is a hard pill to swallow, but I think that learning this lesson makes me better in the long run.

We are stronger than we imagine ourselves to be. In addition to training my body for months, I also worked on preparing mentally for the challenge. I’ve read countless stories of people racing or training after injury, and I definitely did not count myself among that type of competitor. I knew I would be the type to call it quits if I got hurt, but that didn’t end up being how things unfolded for me.

When I lost control of my bike and crashed in a ditch, I hit the ground hard enough to break my helmet and my collarbone. My bicycle chain was also broken, and I had to wait for someone from race support to repair it. My hour-long wait by the side of the road, as every single other race participant rode past, gave me time to think about how I wanted to proceed.

While I waited for some bike assistance, I cried. I was in physical pain, but I was also frustrated and disappointed. My husband had written “Beast mode” on my arm as inspiration for my race, and seeing that written there reminded me that, instead of crying, I really needed to find my inner beast. That’s all it took. Once I made up my mind to continue with the race, I was ready to go.

Before faced with the choice to race or not to race while injured, I would have told you that I was not strong enough to endure pain. What I have learned from my experience, though, is that you never know your strength until it has been tested. I was happily surprised to find that I am one tough cookie (though my husband says that after giving birth to three overdue babies that I have no reason to be surprised).

Perseverance makes for some great stories. My race day certainly didn’t end the way I wanted it to end. I waited for an hour for help, and then I missed a cut off time by 15 minutes. I was absolutely heartbroken to be pulled off the course by the race officials, and learning how I missed the cut off by such a short margin only added insult to injury. The silver lining of my experience is that I have a pretty cool story to tell. I think people are much more interested in hearing about how I rode my bike for 41 miles after breaking my collarbone than they might be interested in hearing a regular race story. Even my emergency room doctor was impressed after he ate his words (he told me that there was no way I could have any significant injuries since I had ridden for so long after the crash and that he would just take x-rays as a precaution).

Of course I would much rather have accomplished my goal than have a great story to tell, but having an awesome story is definitely a good consolation prize. Now that I don’t work outside of the home, my days are pretty humdrum. I ferry the children to their activities, I do enough laundry to clothe an army, and I run lots and lots of errands. Most days, I don’t have anything interesting to share, so it’s been nice to have a story that wows people.

Very few opportunities are once-in-a-lifetime. I was so disappointed when my dream of completing a half-iron distance triathlon didn’t come true. It took several days to realize this, but I finally accepted that my dream wasn’t lost. It just hadn’t come true yet. Nothing is stopping me (at least once I heal) from training and racing again. I gave myself about a week of feeling sorry for myself, and then I registered for another race. On April 8, 2018, I’ll be trying again. I am truly thankful for the lessons that I learned my first time around, and I incredibly appreciative for this life that often provides opportunities for do-overs.


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