Two teammates (and dear friends) have done the same race for 3 years in a row always trying to enroll others to join them. The race is Survival of the Mills in Wells Mills Park, NJ. It’s a triathlon like few others – consisting of 7 stages (Run, Bike, Run, Swim, Run, Bike, Run). All the running is on trails, the swim is in a beautiful lake and the bikes are on rolling country roads. It’s beautiful. And it’s also really hard.
Marathon training has my long run distance up to 16 miles but 8.5 miles of trail running felt infinitely harder. The rollers on the bike were easy enough to power through which made it easy to push harder than you might, knowing the difficult running that lay ahead. But on a 90 degree fall day, the shade of the trees on the trail and the mid-race swim to cool off made the day spectacular. I was alone for probably 75% of the runs through the woods feeling both secluded and at the same time well guided. It was a place to practice feeling grateful for the experience and also positive race chatter as the course took it’s toll on my legs.
Perhaps the best part, was the experience of being with my teammates, Jane and Alison. Of all my triathlon teammates, I think they are my closest matches in ability. We each have individual strengths, all compete fiercely and of the races we have done together, there is never a foregone conclusion about who could come out with the best time of the day. We support each other as openly as we pass each other on the course.
There was a great conversation on the way home about women and competition. What we all seem to recognize is that without competition, we don’t get better. Mostly, the competition is with ourselves. Personally speaking, my goal is not to beat a teammate on the course – my goal is to have my best race possible. I also want them to have the best race possible. That does not preclude me from trying to catch them on a run or a bike. I know my teammates are all around me and if I happen to be in front, I know they are coming for me too. Sometimes I am the rabbit to be caught and sometimes I am chasing the rabbit. In the end, we all end up better because we are pushing ourselves AND each other. I believe it’s healthy competition and I think women, in particular, struggle with this.
Personally, I want to surround myself with women who push themselves to be better; who come with their A game, ready to put everything they have on the line on race day; women who overcome difficulty on race day (like Jane’s multiple mechanicals on her bike) to keep pushing because she knows her teammates are looking for her. I want to become better from chasing and being chased. I want to smile at the end of a race knowing I put my best effort forward regardless of where I land amongst the field.
The bonus of this race is that we swept our age group and walked away with first, second, third place recognition. And we laughed and debriefed about Alison’s ‘shut up legs’ mantra and Jane’s temper tantrum with her bike and my falls on the run and leaving T2 without a helmet. And by themselves, none of those are funny but in the context of our shared experience, I think it made us more connected.
I will definitely do this race again and hope more teammates will join us. The physical exhaustion combined with comradery is a combination that makes me feel so very alive. I want this for everyone; The feeling of self satisfaction; The feeling of connectedness.
For me, its the epitome of joy.