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Wellness / April 24, 2016

When You Realize You Are Just…Average

Written by: Kevin Linderman

Average…man that sounds so….depressing. Anything but average please! I can’t stomach the thought of just falling somewhere along the middle of the bell curve. Well, when it comes to racing, I have to admit, I have been humbled.

My Dad is a songwriter and he once wrote this song called “Average Man.” The chorus spells it out in black-and-white. “I’m an A-V-E-R-A-G-E, I’m an average man, that’s me.” When I asked him about the inspiration to write it, here’s what he said:

“It’s about a guy that is just happy doing what he’s doing, not worried about making too much money, no real high expectations, just comfortable with where he is. Nothing more, nothing less.”

 

My Dad jamming out some good 'ol rock and roll.

I always thought, what a horribly low bar to set for yourself. Why would anyone be proud to be an “average man”? I sure know I wouldn’t be caught dead “settling” for average. However, what if after countless hours of preparation, all the money spent on trainers, equipment, food and accessories, you still are just average? What if after dropping all that weight, gaining all that muscle, and sweating out gallons of water, you still finish smack-dab in the middle? Sure you beat half or more of the people in the race. You should be proud right? But half or more of the people in the race were better than you. So, is it really “settling” if you worked your ass off just to be average?

Over the last 3-5 years, I’ve now done several triathlons of different distances, X-Terra races, mountain bike races and the like. My closet is lined with medals that say “Finisher” on them. I’ve had training and nutrition coaches. I’ve carved out countless hours to prepare for that one moment and after all my perceived improvements and all my efforts, I’m still…here it comes again…average compared to those I compete against.

I have to admit; it’s a real bummer. Especially for someone that likes to win! I remember after my last mountain bike race feeling really depressed about this notion. I had a fantastic day, for me. I finished 100k in 5:35. Well ahead of what I anticipated to do. My friend who probably put in half the amount of training effort given his work constraints as an attorney, came in about 25 minutes after me, but still with a good time. My brother in law who is basically a semi-pro rider came in 1.5 hours ahead of me and placed 13th in his age group and 27th overall (600 racers were in attendance). Yes, 1.5 hours ahead of me! Basically he could have done another lap and still beat me. And then it hit me…no matter how hard I train or push, I will never be at that level. Not now. Not ever. So I really wonder what it’s all about then.

A congratulatory beer

Finishing the Firecracker 50 in 7:10.

Should I simply be happy just being able to accomplish such a goal? The fact that I’m alive and fit enough to do such a thing at 42? Is that reward enough? I don’t know if it is. My wife says, ”Think about what you did? The majority of people could never do what you accomplished.” But I kind of feel like that’s the same as a college student comparing their 2.0 GPA to someone that isn’t in school rather than to the rest of the students in his/her class (you have to compare yourself to your peers in my opinion). I could have saved significant amounts of time and energy and just rode with my buddy 25 minutes later because in the end, what’s the difference? Is it worth significantly more pain, training, diet changes, financial investment, etc, etc to gain 25 minutes but still come in right in the middle of the pack?

Here’s what I love about endurance races; I actually enjoy all the preparation and logistics leading up to the race the most. Second to that is how I often learn so much in a relatively short period of time about myself. Those 5-10 hours during the event represents a microcosm of life. The ups and downs. The failures and successes. Setting realistic goals and milestones. Rewarding yourself for achieving those milestones with a snack or a splash of water in the face. Learning from your mistakes and when you get to the end and you see the finish line, you put your hands up, a smile comes across your face, a chill goes up the back of your neck and you think to yourself, “I did it!”

Finishing the Kerrville 70.3.

It’s about a guy that is just happy doing what he’s doing, not worried about making too much money, no real high expectations, just comfortable with where he is. Nothing more, nothing less.

Then you realize the announcer didn’t even read your name when you finished. Your significant other is happy and proud to see you but it’s time to head back. The medal around your neck says the generic “Finisher” and signifies the race is over. The podium ceremonies may have already taken place because you are several hours behind the winners. You check your times and for you, it’s better than you had planned. A good race…no, a great race for you. Your time is right in the middle and you are left with some questions about was all the sacrifice, hard work and investment worth it? After maybe the first big race, you are just happy with finishing. However, after several races with more or less the same general result, you may be left with the somewhat depressing realization that you are…average.

So where to go from here? Having gone through this now several times and being hit in the face with the realization, here are a few suggestions to conquer what I consider “post-race depression” and deal with this dilemma.

The final rope traverse in the 2015 Spartan Beast.

Allow Yourself  To Go Through It

You’ve spent a lot of time with yourself preparing for and participating in your chosen event. Spend a little more time with yourself through the post-race depression phase. It’s not pleasant. There’s several questions you will struggle with answering, but recognize this too is part of the process and so you need to take the good with the not so good. Also, recognize you are not alone. This is a very common phenomenon. There are lots of articles about this post-race state of mind.

 

It’s About The Big Picture, Not A Moment In Time

Yes you worked extremely hard to do your best at the event, but if you look at this as an event or point in time instead of a lifestyle, then you are missing the point, aren’t you? Without exercise and good diet, I personally would be overweight and angry like I was 5 years ago when I was a couch potato. If I don’t have some type of exercise daily now, I’m difficult to be around. So for everyone’s sanity, not just mine, setting big goals keeps me focused, in the saddle and makes me much more pleasant to be around. It’s part of my life now. Something that centers me on a daily basis and has significant tangible health benefits from lowering my cholesterol and blood pressure to allowing me to try lots of different activities that I otherwise would not be able to do.

 

Find Solace In Your Coach

I can’t express enough the importance of a good coach. Not someone that just puts together a plan for you but someone that cares as much as you do about what you are doing. Because if you aren’t winning, then what’s it about? It’s about you being better today than you were yesterday and there’s nothing like a good coach to console you and get you back on a plan to recovery and then onto the next event.

 

Mix It Up

If you get too close to a sport, my opinion is that your expectations of improvement generally correlate with the amount of effort you put in. However, there is generally a point of diminishing returns for us age-groupers that we all need to figure out for ourselves. If you find yourself plateauing, consider trying something else to mix it up. Try an obstacle race, a running event, or something that sounds interesting and challenging. Talk with your coach, get it scheduled and start planning for it.

 

This Is Life

At the end of the day, there’s no ticker-tape parade celebrating your achievements. There’s no speech honoring you and your sacrifices. There’s not as much social media buzz or local neighborhood envy as you might think. It’s really about you and how you choose to live your life. So are you willing to continue to work as hard as you can even to get slightly above average in the next race? I am. It’s just who I am. So be that as it may, I will always go all-in for any event I sign up for. It’s just me. Where I finish is where I finish. Not much more I can do about that, but I am alive and I am able. So I will continue to do it and be proud to be…average.

 

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about the author

Kevin Linderman

Kevin Linderman is the founder and Chief Adventure Officer for Shoulders of Giants. Kevin has spent his entire professional career in and around the field of information technology, but has always been an avid outdoor enthusiast and a seeker of knowledge.

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