Saturday, October 19, 2013

Just don’t come in last

Winning back my race entry by Bottom Podium-ing!
Most beginners training for their first triathlon will tell you that their goal is just to finish. “As long as I don’t come in last.” More experienced triathletes will tell them that coming in last doesn’t matter and in some races they even make a big fuss over the person who comes in last.

What do they call the person who came in last in a triathlon, you'll be asked? A triathlete!

And when (including me) say this, we are right. You can’t control your placement because it depends on who else shows up so it's not worth worrying about being last. The way I think of it is:

If they had an Ironman and the only people entered were Chrissie Wellington, Craig Alexander, Mirinda Carfrae, one of them would come in last. I’m pretty sure that doesn’t mean that whomever it was is a sucky triathlete who doesn’t deserve to be there since they are all multiple time World Champions.

However, when you point this out, the beginners just shake their head and think “you don’t understand” and they are right as well because the fear of coming in last isn’t about the actual placement. It’s about a lot of things including not being prepared. About making a fool of yourself because you aren’t prepared. Or you bit off more than you could chew and it turns out you aren’t really cut out for this thing called “triathlon.”

Stuff like that.

I know that if I had come in last at my first triathlon, it would have meant I had had a disastrous race and had seriously underestimated what it took to complete a tri or seriously over-estimated my level of fitness. Or maybe both.

And that is what the “I just don’t want to come in last” fear is about. It’s about wanting to be prepared and to execute on your plan and have enough talent and fitness to feel like you belong in the game.

I think it takes a while to get over this fear and it might even take coming in last once in a while. Or at least last in your age group or some other category.

Up until this season I never experienced coming in last. Either I didn’t finish the race at all (once due to injury and once on purpose – I made a triathlon into an AquaBike due to injury) or I finished and wasn’t last.

I came close to being last a lot. In fact, I came in ‘second to last” in my age group all the time. And I finished my first Ironman with 7.5 minutes to spare. But I was never last.  Not in the race and not even in my age group.

Coming in close to last, but not last happened to me so often that it came to become a “thing.” I once had a race so disastrous that I blew out my calf in the middle of the run and had to walk 4.5 of the 6.2 miles. I walked as fast as I could, but I finished so badly that I only beat three people out of hundreds. It was absolutely my worst race ever.

But beat them I did and one of those three was even in my age group. So my streak of never coming in last in my age group continued.

However, this season I experienced coming in last. A lot.

The first time it happened, doing an AquaBike at the California Sprint Triathlon, was weird.

I have to admit, I didn’t like it. In spite of my philosophy that coming in last is no big deal and I shouldn’t mind, I kind of did.

In the past, when I’ve seen the last place finisher come in off the course with a motorcycle escort, lights flashing, I thought to myself that it looked pretty cool and it might make coming in last kind of fun. What I didn’t know is that that darn motorcycle follows you pretty much the entire race.

It’s not fun. It’s kind of stressful, actually.

What happened is that I was in the last wave, which had all the AquaBikers and Relay racers. I had a good swim and I passed a fair number of people in the wave ahead of me even though I’m a lot slower this season than in past seasons when I could practice more. But it was my first AquaBike of the season and my first time biking and swimming together on the same day.

I started out okay on the bike but, over time, more and more people had passed me and I ended up out on the course all by myself. I got to a place where it wasn’t clear to me if I should turn left or go straight. I went straight but it didn’t feel right. So I turned back. Then I saw the motorcycle following the last place finisher coming up in the distance.

I decided to wait for it to make sure I was on the course. This turned out to be a dumb decision because now I was the last place finisher. I thought I could keep up with or even pass the prior last place finisher but it was not to be.

I had that darn motorcycle following me for miles and miles. Stressing me out as I tried to get far enough ahead that he’d be following someone else. He did peel off at points but pretty soon he’d be right back there. Following me. Like a shadow. A looming, going-slower-than-I’m-sure-he-wanted-to-go shadow.

It was fun pulling into T2 with the escort though.

Later on I found out that there was actually someone else out on the bike course. A guy had flatted and was out there by himself. Why couldn’t he have gotten the motorcycle escort?!

Anyway, there were only six or seven of us in the AquaBike and I was definitely last.

Therefore, I was surprised when they called my name to come up to the podium. It seems they decided to give out prizes for top three men and top three women. There were only three women. So I won a bottle of wine!

We call this Bottom Podium-ing and this season I’ve done it a bunch of times.

Once I got over the angst of actually, really coming in last, not just last in my age group, but really last, I have come to enjoy bottom podium-ing. It’s like a big FU to the universe. You think I suck at this? Well, haha, I just won a medal/bottle of wine/$25 race bucks!

Plus it’s just fun to win things.

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