One of my favourite things about sport and fitness (apart from the obvious benefits of being healthy) is the challenge it provides, and the opportunity to learn from failure.
This past weekend I was registered to race in a 50km Ultra Marathon in Canmore, but since I am training for a much bigger race (Ultraman), my coach had me bike 220kms of hills on my trainer as well as a 5.5km run the day before the 50km run. What was great about riding for eight hours in a hotel room in Canmore, was that I could justify watching the Ironman World Championships live feed on my laptop all day. I have to tell you, it was amazing! Sportsmanship at its best!
I watched in sadness as Canadian Heather Wurtelle suffered a bike mechanical that ended her race just a few kilometres into the bike, after a record swim. She was devastated, but handled it like a pro! Another contender crashed riding out of transition and snapped his handlebars in two. He was calm and was able to find another bike to borrow and continued on. Another friend, pro triathlete Jeff Symonds broke a crank on his bike, and pedalled with one leg for (rumours say) 50kms, and then ran a 2:50 marathon – the fastest of the day!
Things don’t always go our way. Sometimes you do your level best and things just don’t work out. Think about Heather Wurtelle – years of training, the best prep for the race ever, and her gear shifting system blew up. Race over, through no fault of your own. The bike mechanics later took her gear shifter apart and said they had never seen that gear break in half like that before.
I remember watching the race back in 2007 when Normann Stadler was racing to try and secure his second world championship title, and he got a flat tire. He lost it. He threw his bike in the lava fields and had a fit. Swearing, crying and freaking out. The bike tech guys showed up, gave him a new tire and off he went, only to get another flat a short time later. This time he totally lost his cool, and gave up, quitting the race.
In 2008 Chrissie Wellington, also the defending champion, got a flat, and calmly tried to fix it. After changing the tube, her C02 cartridge inflator system failed and she stood at the side of the road, with nothing else she could do. She asked a few people riding by if they had a spare cartridge, and the word spread up the line. Rebecca Keat, one of Chrissie’s rivals, unscrewed her spare cartridge and tossed it to Chrissie as she rode by.
Chrissie inflated her tire, and went on to win the race.
The point of all this is clearly, that it is not what happens to you, it is how you manage to handle it. There are always things going wrong and stuff happening that is beyond our control and anywhere from devastating to annoying, and in every case, the only thing that matters, the only thing that we can control, is how we handle it.
In fitness, we are always presented with challenges, and again, it is how we handle it that matters most!
Again, it’s what I love about fitness – the constant chance to experiment with not quitting. The habit of pushing through a challenge, of finding a way to accomplish the task in spite of everything. The habit of welcoming the challenge, of accepting that heavy weight and not only shouldering it up, but crushing the ground beneath you as you defy gravity and press skyward. Kind of like life.
Bruce Lee once said, “Do not pray for an easy life, pray for the strength to endure a difficult one.”
As for my 50km trail run on tired legs, yes, it was hard. No, I never gave up, and yes, I finished exhausted and happy.
Scott McDermott is a personal trainer and the owner of Best Body Fitness in Sylvan Lake.
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