Monday, August 25, 2008

Competing and Failing

Bree Wee, Professional Triathlete and Amateur Hawaii Ironman Course Record Holder

The Olympics of course had many outstanding successes, but there were also the failures (excuse me for the negativity implied by such a word, but it is hard to cover it up for what it is). Like the sprint team members in contention for a medal who dropped the baton, or the girl who hit the last hurdle, or the guy who pulled his hamstring and couldn't even get over the first hurdle when it mattered. Probably what weighs more on my mind over the last day or so is Bree's having to pull out (or be pulled out) of Ironman Canada due to getting sick after more than her fair share of adversity (a flat, mechanical problems, a bee sting, etc.)

When I did the Kona Ironman, they told us that just getting to the start line was a major accomplishment. In fact for me, just finishing was the main goal. The first time I made it (after being on the verge of exhaustion for many hours) with just 17 minutes to spare to the cut-off. On my second attempt, despite a good swim and bike, knee pain prevented me from running, and while walking in pain was possible, it took too long to get to each aid station and I also started to feel cold, so by about 9 pm I felt so sick and dizzy I felt I would pass out. I felt I failed, because my children and friends had all gone to the finish line to wait for me, and I never came (except by ambulance).

A well-known saying goes: "If you aim at nothing, you will be sure to hit it." For many of us, at least in many areas of our lives, that is precisely what we do. In sports, however, if we wish to improve, we have to set ourselves goals, but they have to be realistic enough so that we can be challenged to reach new heights while at the same time not getting too discouraged or else just driving ourselves into the ground.

This year, several of my acquaitances were unable to swim across the English Channel when they were scheduled to do so, and some did not even get their feet wet. The generally unstable weather had a big part to play in this. Then Bree had a verybusy, in my opinion, first year as a pro Ironman-distance triathlete, which had its ups and downs. At least two brilliant races, but she missed the Kona slot by a fraction in one. Then she had a bout of sickness (actually two) each of which would certainly not have helped much with all the training needed. Then there were the mechanical problems with the bike, just when they weren't needed, plus maybe the added pressure that they created that got to her stomach.

I think a big difference between being a pro and an age grouper is that, for someone who is a resident of Hawaii, it is relatively easy to qualify for Ironman (not in every age group of course), but I was a relative newbie and I qualified in three out of four consecutive years. However, for Bree as a pro, the competition for a slot was that much more intense. There were three slots at IMC, and the fifth place woman got the third slot (the other two girls apparently had already won their slots in other races). The fifth place finisher, Lisa Bentley, a seasoned veteran, incidentally went 9hr 42m, which is still a pretty hard time to beat just to get a slot for Kona.

I guess that is the stuff competitions are made of. The people we saw in the finals of swimming or track at the Olympics were usually the best in their respective disciplines that the world had to offer. So many others had trained for years only to never make it.

Still, losing maybe should not matter, as sports are only games, and we saw many good examples of sportsmanship on TV where people acted graciously in losing. There were also a few who were not so gracious, and that not only made the viewers a little uncomfortable, but also did not help the competitors themselves to come to terms with what happened. Perhaps it is wrong to say that they were only playing games. Many were out competing, having trained full-time for years and feeling a sense of duty to repay their country, families or sponsors or whoever else for all the help received along the way. Indeed, I think a lot of people competed under a lot of pressure, which might not have been the intention in having the games in the first place. I might add, that Bree always seeks the best interests of those she competes against. There is never any sense of animosity, and her great attitude is evidenced by the many friends she has both in and out of the sport. For her, I guess it must be a great pity that there are such things as slots. Why can't just everyone join in a race? Why not, indeed?

In my own swimming training this year, I have tried to be realistic in goal setting, attempting to at least see improvement without constantly berating myself for being unable to reach some standard that I think I should be able to reach but without doing the necessary training or needed conditions. Yesterday, I swam a total of 4,000 meters (this time mostly faster swims of 500m followed by about a minute's rest), which ended with a 200m meter "race" that I completed in 3m 04s, equal to my fastest time for that distance so far. That brought my swimming for the week to 28,050 meters.

However, that is about as much as I can do for the moment. Some mornings when I woke up last week, I wondered if I would be better off just staying in bed. I had a fairly heavy cold most days, and most of my waking hours apart from swimming were spent working (always plenty of it) or watching the Olympics or resting (during those times when I could not really function effectively at anything). I don' t like to feel very tired especially later in the day after a workout. I am not young and so I often wonder if something terrible might happen to me. It is for this reason that I have set swimming goals to be accomplished over the space of one year or so. Of course, I might accomplish them sooner, but I don't want to give myself that extra pressure. If I don't get my 200m swim down to 2m 50s by the end of this year, then doing so by the middle of next year will be just as good. It is important to get it down there and then maintain it, so that it is not just a one-off achievement. Now, there remain just 14 seconds....

I wish Bree all the best as she mulls over her training and race schedule. At least she won't have to wait another four years. I also hope the English Channel weather gets better for the month of September so that many aspirants at least have a fair chance of making it across.

1 comment:

ShirleyPerly said...

Interesting thoughts. I think turning pro or competing at a very high level in sports can be good for some but not so good for others. For sure, it can be fun to be do a sport that you love to do full-time and get paid for it, but I think it can also take some of the fun away and create imbalances in one's life. My guess is that there are few who get back or give back what they put in or receive from others. Perhaps the person who can say that is OK and still want to keep going is the person who wins in the end.