Out There: This One’s For The Birds

Chrissie the Majestic Eagle and Susan the Pooping Pigeon end their races the same way: with a smile and a genuine excitement for the next one.

Written by: Susan Lacke

Even though I do triathlons, I can’t call myself a “triathlete” without some degree of uncertainty.

Perhaps this insecurity is most evident on race day. Last weekend, I entered a local triathlon, the first real race I had done since completing Ironman Wisconsin last season. Somehow, I had deluded myself into thinking having an Ironman under my belt would somehow translate into feelings of competency this season.

“Deluded” is the key word here.

When I entered the transition area before the race, I quickly realized nothing had changed from last season. I sheepishly racked my road bike between two name-brand tri bikes that cost more than my car. As I looked around at my fellow racers, I saw a lot of impeccable bodies…and kept my jacket on. They talked of negative splits and lactate thresholds and Kona ambitions; I secretly prayed I wouldn’t die during the race.

In spite of my insecurities, I pulled on my wetsuit and made my way to the start line. I executed my race plan the way I needed to, hit the splits I wanted to hit for each discipline, and felt pretty good about my efforts when I crossed the finish line. Most importantly, I had fun! Not a bad start to the season, I thought to myself.

And then I read the overall standings.

As I looked at how I slow I was compared to my fellow racers, one thing was confirmed: Though I do triathlons, I am not a triathlete. Triathletes are majestic eagles. I am a loud pigeon. With a lobotomy. Who poops everywhere.

Later that night, I took my lobotomized-pooping-pigeon self to the couch, where I drank wine, ate cupcakes, and cried. It was a pity party of epic proportions.

In between tears, merlot, and chocolate frosting, however, I realized something:

Being a pigeon isn’t a bad thing.

Let’s face it: I’m never going to be an Ironman World Champion like Chrissie Wellington. I’m too soft and clumsy and slow. Even though Chrissie and I will never be battling for a podium spot, I’m comforted by the thought that she’s probably, at some point, looked at her fellow competitors and felt like a pigeon, too.

For Chrissie, that feeling probably motivated her to do the work required to become the world-class athlete she is today. For me, it motivates me to get back on the bike so I don’t get passed by Grandma at next weekend’s race.

She gets sponsorships because she’s blazingly fast and people notice the brands behind her. As a (really) slow traveling billboard for my team sponsors, I ensure that everyone has adequate time to read the logos on my tri suit.

Chrissie has hundreds of fans screaming her name at every finish line, where she’s besieged like a rock star. The same thing happens to me at my races, too – because everyone else already finished and has been waiting for me so we can go out to lunch.

While she’s out breaking world records, I’m holding down the fort in the back of the pack. On a good day, I’ll move up to the middle of the pack. And rarely, when all the stars align, it’s a very small race, and the fast people stay at home, I have a shot at moving up near the front.

No matter what the outcome, however, Chrissie the Majestic Eagle and Susan the Pooping Pigeon end their races in the same way: with a smile and a genuine excitement for the next race.

There’s a lot of beautiful things about endurance sports, but quite possibly the best is the amount of love and enthusiasm athletes have for the sport, regardless of whether a racer is an eagle or a pigeon. Stand at the finish line just before the 16 hour, 59 minute, and 59 second cutoff time for an Ironman race, and you’ll see exactly what I mean. The roar of the crowd might even be louder for the last person than it was for the first-place finisher.

You know what? If this is the life of a pigeon, I’ll take it.

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