July 30th 2017 marked two events in my life. First and most importantly, this date marked my 12th year wedding anniversary with my awesome husband. And secondly this date brought on the Boston Triathlon. This race was a big stage — where the who’s who on the local triathlon scene would be competing. This was a big race for me, where I could see how I could compete with the big guns. I love these types of races. No one would expect much from me. I could only surprise people. I was excited to see how this mother of three could compete against these big time local elites and pros.
The race unfolded in a rather unpredictable fashion. The bike course consisted of four loops through the streets of South Boston. The course was shaped like a Y, with one long straight stretch which branched off into two short stints at the head of the straight-away. I started off the bike with some time to make up after the swim (story of my life!). So I hit the gas and was ready to push as hard as I could. I hit the first turn which was marked with a conglomeration of cones. I followed the course into a small parking lot and proceeded to make a U-turn onto the other side of the street heading toward the left-branch of the Y and then back to the starting point. I crossed the first timing mat which recorded each rider’s laps. This seemed a bit odd. I hadn’t hit 5 miles on my garmin. Is this course short? I thought it was 21 miles. Hmmm…. onward I went, making the u-turn after the first lap ready to hit it for lap #2. As I approached that first turn into the parking lot, I was funneled onto a causeway. This is the first I had seen of this causeway. Is this a different part of the course? Did I miss this the first time through the course? I was baffled. Onward I went.
On the left-hand branch of the Y, I caught up with a competitor who is a much faster swimmer (like 4-5 minutes faster) than I am and comparable on the bike. That is when I knew something had gone wrong. I should not be catching her so early on the bike leg. At that point it hit me. I had screwed up. I must have inadvertently cut that first lap short. How did that happen? I remember seeing a volunteer fumbling around at the turn. Maybe he didn’t have all of the signs set up? Or didn’t have the cones in alignment shuttling riders down the causeway? It seemed so obvious where to go when I hit that intersection on the 2nd loop. How could I possibly have missed it?
Ok, what’s done is done. It doesn’t matter how it happened, but it happened. What do I do about it now? I don’t want to be a cheater. But I cut the course short. So what should I do? At that point it dawned on me that yes I might be disqualified. How could I make the best of this situation? I wanted to race fairly — on equal footing with my competitors so I could see where I stood. I didn’t want to cheat, but I had inadvertently cut the course short. At that point I made a decision. On the next lap, I would loop back and ride that causeway twice to make up for the portion of the course that I had missed on the first loop. So that I would ride the same distance as everyone else. Then we would all be on equal footing. So that is just what I did. On the 3rd lap, I rode up and back on the causeway and looped back and repeated that stretch of road. Now it seemed fair. I could finish the race and compete fairly with my competitors.
I finished the bike feeling pretty good about my ride. Onto the run — my sweet spot. My strength. Running people down is my favorite part of triathlon. I feel like I’m on a hunt. As soon as I get a competitor in my sight, I am confident that I can slowly reel them in. I was mostly on my own for the first half of the 10k run. Then at about the half-way point, I spotted two women in front of me. They were a ways ahead of me, but I seemed to be gaining on them. I knew I had it in me to pick it up a notch. I was pushing, but had a bit left in my tank. If I could gradually close the gap between miles 3 and 5, I knew I had that extra gear to pass them in that last mile. By mile 5, I was right on their heels. Time to kick it into gear and go for it. And that is just what I did. I finished that last mile strong and hard, crossing that finish line as the 2nd place female. I was elated. I had had a great race.
Upon finishing I was handed the 2nd place trophy. Photographers took several shots of the top 3 women at the finish line holding their trophies. What a great result for me. I couldn’t have been happier with how the race unfolded. I couldn’t have asked for a better day. I was elated.
Fast forward a few hours to the awards ceremony. I was so looking forward to getting my hands on that 2nd place payout of $500. I told my husband that we could do it up big for our anniversary dinner with the money I was going to bring home from the race! The awards ceremony started amidst a good deal of noise and commotion. They started listing off the overall winners and I heard the name of the 3rd place finisher as well as the 1st place finisher but not my name. I thought I had missed it. But my teammates around me hadn’t heard my name either. In fact, no one had heard my name called. At that point, I became concerned. I looked at the results and didn’t see my name on the leaderboard. I had printed out my results earlier to see my splits. That is when I saw those three disheartening letters: DSQ. I had been disqualified. My heart sunk. But I had raced so well. And I had completed the same distance that everyone else completed. In my mind I had raced fairly. But I had been disqualified from the race. 2nd place had been stripped from me. No podium finish. No $500 to pay for our anniversary dinner. I didn’t even get a finishing time.
Who could I talk to about this? If I explain my story, maybe they will be sympathetic. I made up the part of the course that I had missed on the first lap. I completed the same distance that everyone else completed. Just in a slightly different order. I argued my case to one of the men who worked for the timing company. He told me that he believed me and that maybe if they looked at the laps, they could find evidence supporting my story. But he said it was really up to the race director. Unfortunately the race director was not so supportive. “You know the rules,” he told me. “You go off the bike course and that’s an immediate disqualification.” I wasn’t at all surprised with his response. Yes, I had cut the course short on the first lap. In my mind, I had made up for my mistake. I wanted to race fairly and I did just that. But I still broke the rules. I drove away from the race disheartened. I had had such a great race. And came away with nothing but a DSQ.
Despite the fact that I had been disqualified, my race hadn’t changed one bit. I still had a great race. And in my mind, I still finished in 2nd place. I knew what I had accomplished out there. But still, why was I left feeling a bit dejected? I realized that all that had changed was the public acknowledgment piece. My name would not be on the leaderboard. It wouldn’t be on the Boston Tri website along with the other top overall finishers. I couldn’t officially claim that 2nd place finish. It wouldn’t count in my USAT ranking as points earned toward an All-American status. According to the Boston Triathlon, my result in the race was simply DSQ.
But does any of this really matter? Do I do this to receive public accolades? Do I push myself and train my tail off so others give me a pat on the back for a job well done on race day? It’s a natural inclination to seek out public praise. Simply put – it just makes you feel good about yourself. But is that why I do it? Is that why I work so hard day in and day out in my training? I could answer that question quite easily. NOPE! I do it for myself. To see how hard I can push myself and where I can get with hard work. This is why I get up at 5:00 every morning. Not for anyone other than for me. It’s all about seeing how hard I can push myself. And what I can accomplish with hard work, discipline, and consistent training. The excitement and satisfaction I get out of training and racing lies in connecting the process to the result. Not in public accolades.
It is hard not to be disappointed when you are disqualified from a race. I didn’t get to stand on that podium. I didn’t bring home the $500 to pay for our dinner. And my name won’t appear on the leaderboard in the results. But that doesn’t take anything away from my race. I was thrilled with how I competed. I was thrilled with my race. And I was proud with my effort and how I handled the situation. It all comes down to defining your own success. It shouldn’t be about standing on the podium or seeing your name atop a leaderboard. Those public acknowledgements are nice and certainly make you feel good about your accomplishments. But they are really all just icing on the cake. And really, it’s all about the cake…