It was with an eerily familiar feeling that I ventured to the start line of the Grand Rapids Triathlon last weekend. Chosen as the 2014 USAT Long Course National Championship Course, last year I was registered much further in advance than I ever had been for a race and committed to the event as my comeback from maternity leave in 2013. As the early morning hours of June 8, 2014 rolled in with thunderstorms, the fate of the race itself was uncertain. As the storms cleared but the showers remained, the fate of this particular racer would have been a DNS had it not been for the hospitality of our friends and the proximity of their home to the event. I figured if they had put the effort in to host my whole family and feed us a paleo-friendly pre-race meal, I’d better at least get myself to the start line. Though the downpour continued in transition, the conditions cleared in time for the race and I made my way through each of the three disciplines. Not my speediest finish, but sufficient for 10th in my Age Group and qualification for this year’s World Championships.
Finish Line 2014 – Qualifying for World’s with Biggest @ My Side!
Fast forward one year, this time in the Olympic distance and in a training race rather than a qualifier, a dress rehearsal of sorts for the year’s big race, and the rains struck again. Up most of the night (initially out of panic after reading about the increased distances of the World Championship race) listening to roaring thunder, I again wondered if the race would even happen. The rain stopped in transition and for the swim, but unlike last year, the weather kicked in during the latter miles of the bike and continued through the duration of the run. Happy to finish a slippery bike ride upright, I was pleasantly surprised to maintain a decent comparative time to my previous spin around the Olympic course in 2012 and beyond delighted to see my family present at the finish line to cheer me on – true dedication and supportive spirit given the endless sprinkles of the day.
Soggy but Smiling – GR Tri Finish Line 2015 with Middlest and Biggest
Though I’d always choose a dry course, especially for the added risk rain brings to the bike, inclement weather provides a host of lessons – in patience, ability to shift goals, importance of honing focus on the road and appreciating that, though results are certainly influenced by best effort in training and on race day, they are still subject to elements beyond our control. This was reinforced in the writing of Alan Watts, in his book The Wisdom of Insecurity (which I was able to read in its entirety after years of snippets, while stuck on our plane, ironically in a thunderstorm, en route to Sweden). We must be able to let go, live in the moment and swim with the current to survive.
It took a triathlon of flights yesterday to bring us to our final destination and, of course, it was the middle leg that proved most difficult. Rain delays, aggressive lightning (which seems much more threatening when sitting on an open runway in a large metal airplane!) and a broken toe bar (which, for Friends fans, sounded about as legit as a “problem with the left phalange” at the time) meant an extra two hours of sitting in hot, cramped seats, gaining no ground toward our ultimate destination. While many members of our flight were vocally irritated, impatient and anxious, my husband and I took a moment to be grateful for the change to sit leisurely, read our books and spend time in happy conversation with a most endearing Jamaican seat mate. While initial instinct may have been to swim against the current in attempt to surface quickly, ultimately it was surrender to the tide and ease with the natural flow of the situation that made an inconvenient situation enjoyable and the end result better than it might have been if we had just taken off on original schedule.
I will carry these lessons with me on Saturday when a cold lake may alter the swim, a multi-loop bike course complete with significant hill will challenge my tolerance, three laps around the run with fatigue on board test my endurance and any number of unknown uncontrollable elements could influence the race. I am choosing in advance, and will repeatedly in the midst of the event, to roll with the tide. This decision was supported today as, upon our arrival in Stockholm, we encountered a fellow competitor from our JFK flight from the South African team. Now, it doesn’t take long for my husband to strike up a conversation in most arenas, but with a fellow countryman, the connection is especially strong and fast. As I stood back and listened to bits and pieces of their Afrikaans conversation, I caught a glimpse of the specialness of this event that far surpasses the physical challenge. To bring together athletes from across the globe, diverse in experience, skill and culture but common in pursuit, is simply amazing. I cannot wait for the opportunity to see the colors of so many nations moving together through the opening ceremony tomorrow and in the race on Saturday. I am as they are and gratitude is all that remains.
May we give our best effort to all that is within our control but find ease in surrender to that which we cannot – successful solace in serenity.
Beautiful al fresco dinner in Linkoping