As an athlete, you’re going to have some tough days. It’s inevitable. Whether it’s a day your body just won’t cooperate, conditions are awful or you’re just plain exhausted, tough days will come, for every athlete alike. The difference, however, is in what you decide to do with them. In my opinion, the only option is to just get out there, and keep on going.
In the last few weeks, I’ve had more than one terrible athletic experience. Unfortunately, both came on race days. The first was at an Olympic-distance tri, on a day when the temps hit 102. I knew this race would be terribly hot, and in fact, that’s why I added it to my schedule at the last minute. To be clear, I absolutely despise the heat. And I’m terrible at performing in it. My body just doesn’t know how to deal. But, this is precisely why I knew that, as rough as it would be, I needed to do this race. I needed to give my body another chance to practice in the heat, and hopefully start to adapt.
Needless to say, no miracle adaptations were made, and the experience was about as rough as I could have expected. After an incredibly solid bike leg, I headed onto the run in fourth place, well on my way to a PR time, and gunning for more. I moved in to third and was feeling stellar when suddenly, at about mile 3 of 6.2, my body became acutely aware of the heat, and the effects started to settle in.
Long story short, I went into total heat exhaustion mode. My body felt completely zapped, and every movement was difficult. My stomach felt nauseated, and my head full of air. I very quickly dropped way off the pace, moved back into fourth, and then fifth. My PR fell out of sight. I watched as runners went by, and there was literally nothing I could do. Except keep going. Because to me, that was the only option. Suffering as I was, there was no way I was going to stop. So I pushed and grunted my way painfully to the finish, and immediately began receiving medical attention as my body desperately tried to recover from the misery I’d subjected it to. The experience was far from fun, but I did recover. And now, I’m that much stronger.
The next week, as I lined up for XTERRA Tahoe City, the temps were frigid, the sky an angry gray, and the wind relentless. Lake Tahoe was full of choppy waves, and the water felt like ice. Nothing seemed less appealing than getting in for a swim, biking 22 miles and then running 6. But, along with more than 100 others, I did it anyway. Because that was what I’d set out to do.
Unfortunately, the day didn’t get much better. I actually fared well in the water, but the bike leg was one of the toughest I’ve had. Due to technical problems, I had to ride my very sub-par bike from the 1990s, and let’s just say it didn’t help an already tough situation. My body just wasn’t into it. Try as I may, I couldn’t get my legs moving. I watched myself get farther and farther behind the lead as the course went on, my goal slipping away, but was unable to change my situation.
I felt awful, and it was absolutely no fun. I wanted nothing more than to stop. But I didn’t. I kept going, determined to finish the race with dignity. And to my surprise, I did. On to the run, and I was suddenly in my element; a total change of pace. My body finally wanted to go, and I was shocked how much I was able to redeem myself. I was so glad I’d kept going.
While the end results for both races were disappointing, I was proud of how I overcame the situations I faced. I did all that I could, and I did not give up. That is all I could ask of myself. And I’m a stronger athlete now because of it. It’s always tempting to give in to a bleak situation, and let ourselves back down. It’s easier, and in some senses less demoralizing. But in doing so, we miss out on all the growth that comes with pushing through.
Never give up. Keep going. You might be surprised at what your body can do. Above all, put yourself out there. Even on the tough days, when conditions aren’t ideal, or your body’s not tip-top, just get out there and see what you can make of it. Because in the end, even if we do fail to finish, it’s far better than never starting at all.
— Kara LaPoint is an elite amateur triathlete competing for LUNA bar, and working up to the pro ranks. She has earned numerous overall amateur podium finishes and age-group wins across distances from Olympic to Ironman, and finished the 2011 season ranked as an All-American nationally among her age group (25-29). During the winter, LaPoint is a top local Nordic ski racer and coach. Read more about her racing and training at www.karalapoint.wordpress.com. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.