Winning = Vulnerability

Sonya Looney on the podium as the winner of the 2011 Breck Epic.

OFF-SEASON.  It normally starts mid-November. Off-season doesn’t mean that I don’t train, but it does mean a break from racing. It’s often a time where I reflect on my year. I look in amazement at where I’ve been, what I’ve done, how I’ve improved; I also look at it with a critical eye. What can I do better next year?

Last year, I looked at my results and saw a lot of 2nd place finishes. Why was I unable to close the deal?  The answer was simple.  FEAR.

I picked up the book “Born to Run” last year (2010). Undoubtedly a popular read, it offers a great story, a little bit of history, and some of the topics hit home. HARD. I got my answer. Why was I unable to win?

Something happened this year. I don’t know if it’s because I thought about these points I’m about to discuss, if it was experience…or what. I’m not sure where it came from, but my season just ended and I looked back at my results for the year. I was surprised to see more wins on my list than anything else. More days on the top of the podium box than not, but what was that like?

By opening yourself to great accomplishment, you also become vulnerable to huge disappointment and failure.  Winning doesn’t even have to be the goal, but it’s a good example here.

Back to “Born to Run.” There were a couple of quotes that I jotted down. I thought about them and tried to identify with them.

“To move into the lead means an act requiring fierceness and confidence… but fear must play some part… no relaxation is possible, and all discretion is thrown to the wind.”
– Roger Bannister

I’m not much of a gambler. I think I’m being a risk taker if I throw 10 bucks down in Vegas. I’m good at taking calculated risks, but have a difficult time with the unknown. Sure, I’ve taken some risks to achieve what I have in my life, but applied to racing, what was I afraid of? I noticed that I was a lot more comfortable sitting in 2nd or 3rd place in a race instead of taking the lead and trying to keep it. When you are winning, you cannot relax.  Your hand is shown and you have everything to lose. The confidence to know you are making a smart choice by moving into the lead is hard to grasp. With endurance racing, it is especially nerve-wracking to be in the lead because you have 50-100 miles, or days to hold onto that lead.

“Beyond the very extreme of fatigue and distress, we may find amounts of ease and power we never dreamed ourselves to own; sources of strength never taxed at all because we never push through the obstruction.”
– William James

By taking risks in a race, I noticed that I would feel stronger (mentally and emotionally) at the finish or after a few days. Sometimes I’d feel stronger regardless if it panned out the way I wanted it to. Accomplishment can be proudly felt from throwing discretion to the wind and having it go right, but true strength is manifested by extreme disappointment as well. Taking the lead, taking the risk opens you to both.

“Leading: you’re vulnerable, you surrender all elements of surprise, and become a prisoner of your own pace.”

My last race of the year was 2 weekends ago in Texas – the Palo Duro Marathon. I knew that every race I had won in 2011 were ones where I went for it from the start. I did not give myself the option to sit comfortably in 2nd or 3rd. I also had races this year where I went for it from the start and lost it all. I went for it, and I was racing a good friend of mine. Someone who knew my strengths and weaknesses. Over the course of 50 miles, I was stressed out. I was wishing for it to be over because I was afraid I’d lose. I hated being in the lead. Was I going fast enough? Was I going too fast? Would I blow up? What was going to happen? Would I get a flat tire and lose it? What if? What if not? By leading, I was in charge of the pace – a prisoner of my own pace, but I was freaking out about setting it. I wasn’t enjoying being in the lead, I wasn’t feeling confident. I noticed this emotional stress at every race where I was leading. What if I’m wrong?What if I CAN’T? The stress is multiplied with stage racing because you go through this feeling for days on end.

Everyone loves winning, but I’m trying to not hate the fight of winning. The stress, the vulnerability, the what ifs, the throwing caution to the wind, becoming a prisoner of your own pace (genius phrase). I told myself that for 2011 I had to try, even if it meant failing and still getting 2nd. I was mostly pleased with the results.

I’m glad I did. I took the lesson and applied it to other parts of my life and it worked there, too. Where else could I take more risks, make myself more vulnerable? After all, when we let our guard down, it can open the door to things we never dreamt were possible. The courage to be mighty. I think that’s a good New Year’s Resolution. “I will do things that make me more vulnerable.”

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