Personal Best

What is it with us, as athletes (even adult onset types), that we can never be happy with just participating in a race or event? Why must every thing we do result in a new personal best or else be considered a disappointment?

This was definitely my mind-set during my fist two years racing. If I finished a race and it was slower than a previous race, I felt like I had failed. Instead of celebrating the finish of an event that just a year prior I could not have done I beat myself up for days over a 4 minute slower time, or a 10 second slower pace.

I think what happens is that you start linking personal bests to improvement, and I guess at some level it is linked, but what I have come to realize after a couple of years fighting injury and issues out of my hands is that you get better after every race regardless of the time or pace you set. The question came up on social media recently where a woman was lamenting how she would never win an event. My response to her was that every event you start you win. It doesn’t matter if you ever stand on the podium, and to be frank I wonder what the real motivation is for people who only live for that. All that matters is that you are up and moving. Chris Willis, our guest this week on the podcast, made a great point in that you are never last. In every race there are people who do not start (DNS), do not finish (DNF), and millions who are still sitting on the couch. Finishing a race means you beat every one of them. Every one. So even if you are dragging across the finish line at 9:17:23 (my finish time at the last Ironman Augusta 70.3) you still beat every person that did not complete or compete.

The problem is that mainstream sites and magazines make it seem like seeking a personal best is the mark of a champion, and therefore anything less than that is not worthy of time or effort. On one site it is referred to as having the “heart of a champion”, which to me means that if you are not actively pushing for the personal best time you do not have the heart of a champion. I have to disagree with this. I am sure if you go to the writers of these articles they will say “that is not what I said or meant”, without realizing the effect that not saying something is just as bad as saying it. No one, unless they are a true ass, is going to come to your face and say “you’re not a real runner”, or “you’re too slow to run with my group”. Yes, there will be many people who are “keyboard brave” and will say it, but most aren’t ballsy enough to confront anyone in person. But they do say it.

You know how they say it?

They don’t invite you to group runs.

There was a local group here that were training for Ironman Chattanooga last year. This was before I had to pull and was knee-deep in the training. They all know I was registered as well, but when they met up to do a run or a ride I was not invited. Sure, on the group social pages they were very supportive, but they showed their true feelings by not including me (not just me, but those in my ability range) when they did a group training.

I don’t want to give the impression that it really bothered me. To be honest, it was not the type of group I would train with anyway, and perhaps they felt that coming from me and that was part of the issue. I can be a little … stand-offish … and I know that. but the bottom line is that they knew I was not able to maintain the pace of the group, and instead of trying to help me get to that level, they just omitted me. I am not comfortable surrounded by Type A triathletes (or runners) who spend the whole training event racing each other. I like the comradery of a group, much like I feel in my current Team in Training team for the Century Ride. We are all in it together, and we will all finish together. We do not compete against each other.

Where a lot of us go wrong is that we expect others to be like we are, meaning that because I would never do that to someone I expect the same from others, and when others do not act in the expected manner it jars us. I was talking to my son about this issue the other day, where he couldn’t understand why people are so rude to each other over simple issues. “I would never do that!” he said. “Why do they do that then?”.

It’s the same issue Zak … you cannot expect others to be the same way you are. Most are not.

Seeking a personal best is a good thing, but not if they are the sole reason you are out there. It took me a year or two to come to that realization, and since have been much less anxiety filled at each race. Your personal best is the best you have that day, that race, that training ride. Give every event your 100% and you win.

It’s as simple as that.

4 thoughts on “Personal Best

  • April 17, 2015 at 10:13 am

    To be honest, I don’t love the whole “lapping everyone on the couch” thing, either. As a veteran couch dweller, I don’t regret the time I spend there. Those years were not a wasteland of sloth. I pursued photography, knitting, sewing, having a baby… I would have been insulted if someone smugly insinuated that their 5k was a better use of time than an afternoon of knitting.

    I know it’s not about that. And because my adult onset athletic endeavours are not health-motivated, I’m missing a big piece of why couch dwelli g is so harmful. But yeah… I don’t love that particular expression.

    • April 20, 2015 at 12:49 pm

      I think you answered your own question, When healyh endeavors are not motivated by health issues (i.e. overweight ion my case) it’s hard to compreend why sitting on a couch all afternoon (while probably beneficial mind wise) is not the healthiest choice.

  • April 16, 2015 at 3:38 pm

    Great points made! One of the most amazing things I ever witnessed was a larger body type young man dead last on a XC run and every kid on teams from 8 schools stood on the sidelines and cheered him in and celebrated when he finished and what I heard from my kid was this young man is part of their team and they don’t want him to give up on himself. At the end of season party the team gave him the peer voted award for most determination and team leadership because he evidenced what the concept of the team motto was – to endure. Will he continue to improve and reach his PB? Most likely. But even “last” he was”first” in the eyes of those who eclipsed him. kind of like that line in a popular book that states “the last should be first” and lead us onward. You’ve given us things to consider on social norms.

  • April 16, 2015 at 11:40 am

    Great feature! Couldn’t agree more with everything you stated.

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