It's all too easy to finish an event, look at your time, and hang your head. As athletes your goals are often very high. They have to be, because most of you want to push harder and faster than you have before. You want and need to see those times fall, those goals met, those boxes checked in the ledger of accomplishment.
Is that a fair way to judge a race?
A finish time is not the final word on the success or failure of an event. It is sometimes an unrealistic, possibly damaging thing to hang on to. Too many outside forces play into races to stack a whole heap of expectations on top of each time out on the course.
I recently completed my first 70.3. It was Hawaii Ironman 70.3, or "Honu", on the Big Island of Hawaii. I live on Oahu, but the weather between here and Kona is different enough to impact how I was going to ride in regards to the wind, and run in regards to the heat.
I'd never strung together a 1.2-mile swim, a 56-mile bike and a 13.1-mile run. I had practiced my nutrition on long rides and long runs, but had never put it together in a seven hour race. On top of that, I was recovering from a foot injury and the week before the race was spent not tapering, but moving everything we own out of our house and into storage. I had no idea what my body was going to feel like come race day.
With these factors in mind, my goal for the race was very simple: Finish proud.
How to Finish Proud
"Finish proud" meant that when I crossed the line, if I felt like I'd put everything I had out on the course, I would be satisfied with my time and, more importantly, my effort. I would not look at the splits and be disappointed. And after nearly seven hours of swimming, biking, and, let's be honest, run/walking, I came through the finish chute hurting, worn down and burned out. But I proudly finished that race.
Does finishing proud mean there is no reflection? Does it suggest there should be no goal setting? Of course not! I had goals in mind for each leg of the race, and I did a ton of reflecting post-race on how I could have done better.
Finishing proud simply means not hanging your happiness on one aspect of the event—your final time. It means taking the event as a whole and trusting that you did your very best.
In fact, trusting that you did your very best is the most important aspect of the "finish proud" philosophy. As athletes, we always want to do better. But sometimes that is not in the cards. The weather is less than ideal. Aid stations weren't well equipped. Your calf cramped up halfway through the race and you had to waste a bunch of time stretching the thing.