There are two ways to measure yourself in races -- by where you finish in the field or where you finish in comparison with yourself.
Which one is more valid? Which one is more important?
For me, it depends on the day. And that can be a bad thing. Since I really should only be concerned with my personal improvement, not my placement in the field.
But that's easier said than done.
Take for instance, my overall results from the RIT Indoor Tri last weekend. All my individual performances improved but overall, I placed 81st out of 100 athletes. Percentage-wise, that's about the same place in the field that I finished the previous month when I ran the Rochester YMCA Indoor Tri.
Frankly, that result bummed me out.
Then, because I am a firm believer that you can make numbers tell you anything you want, I broke down my results further.
Looking at female competitors, I finished 29th out of 43. In the swim, my distance was the 41st best. My run placed 19th and my bike 13th.
So I gather that I was in a field of pretty strong swimmers.
And that's something I can't control. I can't control who shows up to a race. I can't control who my competition is. Hence, I can't really control where I finish in the field.
I was talking with a college basketball coach about this athletic predicament -- showing signs of individual improvement without the results (wins or placement) to prove it.
It's one of the tricky things about the mental side of athletics. You do your best to prepare physically, mentally and emotionally. You put in the work and the focus ... and you still may not win or be successful. Then comes the fear: What if my best isn't good enough? That fear, she said, holds back a lot of athletes.
The desire to win alone doesn't get you the wins or the placement, she told me. The desire to win drives you to make the sacrifices on a daily basis to become your best. Competition is the reward for that work.
And it is a reward. So I may have wished my race placement was better, but those indoor tris and road races have been fun.
Mary, my tri coach, was very happy with my results. I swam 100 yards further this time, I ran further and I did back-to-back races at a darn good clip.
Oh, and if you recall a few months ago my struggle to complete swimming a length of the pool? Heck, I've already come a long way, regardless of what the final results sheet says.
And, if I focus daily on the things I can control, the placing will eventually take of itself.