Lessons Learned from Quitting--and Trying Again

By , SparkPeople Blogger
By Caitlin Boyle

Two years ago, I stood at the water’s edge, feeling jittery. When the horn blew, I dived into the lake with enthusiasm. “I can do this!” I thought to myself.

But right away, I knew I could not to do it. I put my face into the dark, murky water and immediately came up, gasping for air. My arms and legs flailed. Another triathlete kicked me in the face. Everything I had learned about swimming went out the window. I started to panic. Breathing quickly and shallowly, I hailed a lifeguard, swam over, and clung to his kayak. “Take me to shore,” I sobbed. “I quit. I quit!”

I exited the water and handed my timing chip to a race official. Hanging my head in shame, I felt intense embarrassment wash over me--it was just a tiny super sprint triathlon! But I was so intensely afraid of open water that I could not even complete the 0.25 mile swim. Determined not to completely wimp out, I went on to finish the bike and run legs of the triathlon, even though I was technically disqualified.

I completed 19 other races, including 5Ks, 10Ks, 15Ks, several half marathons, a 100K bike race, and a marathon, but that failed sprint triathlon hung over me like a dark cloud. It was the only race I had ever quit, and I knew I’d never redeem myself until I tried again. And more than anything, I wanted to face my fears and experience a tri. After all, triathlons are exciting, the race atmosphere is supportive, and doing three activities in one race is fun and challenging!

I signed up for a triathlon in March and gave myself two months to train myself into a super swimmer. My training plan called for three days of swimming, three days of running, and two days of cycling; I pulled many two-a-days. I decided to go all the way and sign up for an Olympic Triathlon, which had a swim leg that was three times as long as my first failed triathlon.

Four years ago, my best friend sat me down and told me that I needed to get my fitness act together. I was unhealthy and unhappy, and I knew she was right. She was training for a marathon at the time and offered to take me on a run. It was hard at first--I could only go a quarter mile before I collapsed on the sidewalk in tears--but being bad at running made me want to stick with it. After all, if other people could run 5Ks, why couldn’t I?

I applied the same logic to my triathlon. If other people could put their faces in lake water and swim for 0.75 miles, why couldn’t I?

On the morning of the Olympic Triathlon, I was scared all over again, but this time, I knew I wouldn’t quit. My fears began to resurface about two minutes into the race. I paused many times, floating on my back and trying to breathe deeply. The water was icy cold--55 degrees --and it felt like my lungs were closing up. But I hung on. I kept swimming. The group soon separated from me, and I was left all by myself, chugging alongside the lifeguards in kayaks, who were urging me on. I could hear my husband, dad, and friend screaming “Just don’t quit!” from the shore.

When I finally exited the water, I was so relieved. I was the last person out of the lake, but I didn’t care--I just ran as hard as I could to the transition area. Who knew that being last could make me feel like such a winner? I felt transformed, strong, proud, and happy. I wanted to jump up and down and say, “I DID IT! I DID IT!”

I really believe that racing is the way to make your healthy journey about more than your weight, size, or appearance. Racing celebrates and reinforces your physical and mental strengths. It reveals your weakness and forces you to face them head-on… making you stronger and more capable than you dreamed. Racing gives you a goal to work towards and helps keep you motivated. Plus, it’s exciting and fun!

Whether you’re the first person across the finish line or the last person out of the water, the experience will change your life forever.

To read the recap of my Olympic Triathlon experience, check out this post on Healthy Tipping Point. You can also watch this video Caitlin created.

What lessons have you learned from quitting? Does winning feel sweeter after losing?

Caitlin Boyle blogs at Healthy Tipping Point, a healthy food and fitness site, and Operation Beautiful, a self-esteem boosting blog. Caitlin believes in balance, moderation, and – most of all – having fun with fitness! Her first book, based on the Operation Beautiful site, will be published in August.

What lessons have you learned from quitting? Does winning feel sweeter after losing?