What Does It Mean to be “Good” at Something?

A lot of the girls I know from triathlon have been saying lately in passing, “It sounds like running is going well.” Which is nice of them both to notice and to say something. But, it’s also kind of funny.

I ran really well at the Kaiser Half Marathon. I was really happy with the result. And, yet, I was the 28th woman.

That’s a totally fine placing for a medium-sized running race, but the last time I was the 28th woman at a triathlon was maybe Oceanside 2011. And, that’s a much bigger race than Kaiser and had a much higher-quality field in terms of the crazy talented people and the sheer number of them – respectively, for the sport. It was also the first real half-IM I’d done, without any portion getting cancelled and without me being injured and walking. I don’t think I’ve ever placed that far back at a triathlon of the equivalent size and scope as Kaiser.

At the Chicago Marathon, I was like 280-something woman. I think. At the Chicago Triathlon (biggest Olympic distance triathlon in the country), I was like top 20-or-something the last time I did it.

So, is running going well? Yes. I am the fastest I have probably ever been, because even when I was faster and thought I might make it as an 800m runner, I certainly didn’t have the endurance to sustain that pace for any amount of time.

But, am I good at running? I don’t know.

J. Lo triathloning.
J. Lo triathloning.

Obviously, there are more people who run than who triathlon. [Side note: shouldn’t triathlon be the verb form of triathlon? I run. I triathlon. I ‘compete in triathlon’ is unnecessarily bulky.] For all that triathlon as a sport is growing — yeah, J. Lo — it is still relatively niche. And, I certainly can believe that there just isn’t the same depth of talent on the women’s side of triathlon yet. (Yes, the top talent is untouchable, but what women’s triathlon often lacks is that huge quantity of very good people just below stunningly fast. The men’s side does not lack this as much.)

Part of what may make me believe I am a better triathlete than runner is probably simply that there are fewer people to beat. Once triathlon becomes as deep a sport as running, I may not think I’m so good at it. But, it’s also likely that I am simply better at triathlon than I am at running. Why am I not doing it then?

Most of the time we like the things we’re good at. I loved the Pacific Grove Triathlon, even though you have to swim through an entire farm of kelp, because I set an age-group course record there. My feelings about the course changed after I had to compete in the draft-legal race as a pro and came in DFL. And, obviously, if we always loved what we’re good at then Michael Jordan never would have tried to make it as a pretty ok baseball player.

So, I’m not doing triathlon right now because I didn’t like it anymore. Or rather, I didn’t like a lot of the accoutrements that came with trying to be ‘good’ at triathlon and I wouldn’t have been happy at that time not being ‘good’ at it. And, maybe I partially didn’t like it because I wasn’t ‘good’ enough.

With running, my definition of good changes. 28th at Kaiser is good. Running a 3:05 at Boston would be very good. Good in running, as is being defined by me, is attainable with much less total training time and stress and people getting up in my business. And, it almost definitely isn’t going to include any podiums or many wins.

It would be really easy to say that my definition of good just got a whole lot shittier, in that gold star for everyone kind of way, but I’m not totally sure that’s true. Because I am as fit as I probably ever was, just not in the water. And, when I have raced a couple triathlons in the last year, I did about as good as ever. (Not quite as good, not good enough that I’d be happy if I was training specifically for triathlon and had goals, but pretty good.) So, I don’t think it’s just some vague lower-your-expectations-and-be-happy lesson, because on a practical note, you can’t force expectations to lower themselves anyway. But, there is something funny about how they change without you telling them to.

I will probably go back to triathlon at some point, because I think it’s a fun sport (and if I want to stand on a podium again that’s not going to happen running), but it’s nice for a little bit to have a slightly different definition of if I’m doing good.

[Steve keeps saying, “Well. Superman does good.”]

Top of the podium feels so good.
Top of the podium feels so good.

4 thoughts on “What Does It Mean to be “Good” at Something?

  1. 3:04:56 at Boston makes you 75th woman, in 2006. 🙂 See you there!

    Did I not read your chicago report and comment back then? My bad, I was all caught up in my race. You had crab-claw hands too! I’m wearing full on ski gloves at boston.

  2. I like this. And I don’t think it’s all about “oh yay, you tried your best, so you get a gold start and you did GOOD!” (note, I wrote “good” intentionally, I realize the grammatically correct word is “well.”)

    It’s like our conversation a few weeks ago; life changes, you change and suddenly you realize that between the other priorities in your life might take more precedence. Or maybe something’s just not as fun as it used to be. So why keep doing it? Nobody said you had to keep triathlon-ing until you’re middle aged and broken. You just do it as long as it’s fun. When it’s not fun or it becomes a chore and a pain to train for and ends up as a source of stress, then why bother?

    Now, most times at this point I would say “and it’s not like you’re going pro.” But that doesn’t apply to you. But still. It’s not like as a pro you were trying to make a career of it. And honestly, even if you were – when it’s not fun, then you’re probably not even going to be as good as you could be if you were truly happy to be doing it.

    So good for you. And good job on your running. And ultimately you should just be doing what makes you smile and what makes you happy.

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