On Comparing Yourself to Others: My Triathlon Experience

If you are pressed for time and need the cliff's notes version of this blog on comparing yourself to others, here you are:


Now, for those who enjoy putting off doing something supposedly more important like "paying attention to your kids," by reading my words of/attempts at wisdom, here's a 1,043-word diatribe.

There I was, about to cross the finish line of a sprint triathlon, looking strong in the video my husband was about to post on Facebook, and on the inside, I couldn't have felt weaker.

My body, weary from a .5 mile swim, a 12.4 mile bike ride and a 3.1 mile run in 80-degree heat, still with the ability to kick at the end, and I couldn't have been more disappointed in it.

There was a smile filled with pride on my husband's face as his arms stretched out for a high five and a hug and I couldn't have wanted to curl up on the ground and cry more.

Why, you ask.

Well, because I finished 116th. Out of 136. 21 out of 22 in my age group. Almost the slowest person on the course for the biking portion.

While training for the event, I told the lifeguard at the pool that I wouldn't be first and I wouldn't be last. At some points during the event, I wasn't so sure I could keep good on my promise to him, and not in the good (first) kind of way.

I had plenty of excuses for my performance:
It was my first triathlon.
I'd never swam in open water before (without a lifejacket).
I'd ridden that particular bike approximately zero times prior to the race.
I didn't eat a good breakfast.
It was hot.
The course was hilly.
And on and on.

But deep down I knew these were excuses. The facts were that I got passed by most of the master's level swimmers in the water and more women than I cared to count on the bike trail. If I heard the phrase "on your left" one more time, I might have chucked my shoe at someone's spokes.

So in essence, I needed a moment to feel sorry for myself upon finishing. I told my husband I'd meet him around the other side of the transition area and went to grab the bike my friend's mom ever-so-kindly loaned me for the race. I got to my belongings and knelt down to cry. The tears were just about to start flowing.

"Nic, do you need more chocolate milk?" yelled my husband.

His voice startled me. I thought he had gone ahead. But there he was, waiting for me and thus not allowing his wife to cry like a little girl after an accomplishment so big. He stopped my pity party in its tracks, damn him. Then he handed me my phone. I watched his videos, heard him scream cheering for me in the background and read the comments. The tears started to come back, but this time for a different reason. They were right. This was "awesome," "impressive" and worthy of congratulations.
And I needed every single comment to believe it. So if you were one of those people, thank you and know that you made a huge difference in my day.

Ericka Lang Go nicki go

When I stripped away my time, my place and my comparison to the other triathletes, I realized I had so much FUN! The lake water didn't scare me...sure I sidestroked more than planned, but I completed a 750 meter open water swim.  For the biking portion, my legs felt tired but good and I was able to take in the beautiful scenery around me on the longest ride I've ever ridden on a bike. For the 5k, my time was only 1 minute and 30 seconds slower than it was when I ran ONLY a 5k on fresh legs the previous week at Dam to Dam.

Comparing myself to myself was only possible on the run, but something I should have considered all along. Because I'd never done a triathlon before, I looked to compare myself to others. Others who probably had done this before. Others who probably put in more time at the pool and on their bikes. Others who are younger, older, bigger, smaller and just plain others. They're not me.

It's interesting to me that I didn't compare myself to others who didn't do the race. I didn't for a second think, well, I'm beating people sitting on the couch today. I feel like this is a fault of humans. We're always comparing ourselves to those we think are "better, richer, faster," than us, not evaluating how we stack up against ourselves and if we feel good about what we have, who we are, and how we feel when we look in the mirror. Because when I look in the mirror I feel good. My downfall in the triathlon was when my eyes went to the side and I saw how much better everyone else was doing. My confidence went to the porta pot.

Now that I've had 24 hours to think about it, rather than negative emotions, I feel proud, both of my competitors and more importantly of myself. I wasn't against them on the swim, the bike or the run, I was against me. And I did it. I checked off my bucket list goal of completing a triathlon. I finished strong, both on the outside, and eventually, with the help of others, on the inside as well.

Next time I think about comparing myself to others, I'll remember: "Don't!"

As an added bonus, I found out I have the best husband in the world, (not that I'm comparing ;)
Love is absolutely an overabundance of Facebook posts about your partner competing in a triathlon and making sure they have enough chocolate milk to drink afterward. No pity parties allowed.
Thank you, Mr. Lindquist. I love you!