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?

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Made me want to consider adding a 5K to my goals as a stepping stone to get to my ultimate goal! Great blog Report
Very inspirational and insightful Report
That was absolutely amazing and awe-inspiring about how you pushed past your fears and continued to try again despite what it may have looked like in comparison to your counterparts. What matters most is the fact that you held yourself accountable to the goals that you set for yourself!!! Bravo Report
Facing fear and successfully completing is a great feeling! Report
good article Report
I loved the message at the end of the video!! Way to go and thank you!!! Report
Way to go! I too would be scared of the swimming portion of a triathalon. It's amazing what we accomplish when we put our minds to it! Report
Wow, that was totally encouraging. I have failed and quit many times, but I realize NOW that everytime I start again....I'm a WINNER. Thanks for sharing that powerful story with us and for getting back in the RACE!! Report
Wow...thanks! I just completed my first Olympic tri, and it was HARD! Much harder than the half marathons and 10k's that make me feel so badass....your story made me tear up, because I can so relate to that feeling of wanting to give up. Way to go for not quitting, and beating a demon that haunted you! Thanks for your honesty. I think it can help me to be strong as I tackle my next race (another Olympic tri.) You are so right about racing, and it's positive effect on health--mental and physical. Keep up the great work! Report
very encouraging Report
So inspiring, I marked the triathlon off my list because of my fear of open water. Maybe I will reconsider! Report
Wow... I'm blown away! And I'm sitting here whining about my feet! Boise does have its own Ironman competition and I had consider doing that but not for another year or two as I want to put as many c25k, 5k, 10k, half and full marathons under my belt before I even do a tri. You're an inspiration! Report
Wonderful story. Thank you for sharing! Report
Thank you for sharing. This is very inspirational. I never fail to be amazed, encouraged, and inspired by each person's accomplishments--whether it's taking that first walk around the block, losing a few pounds, or completing a marathon or triathlon. Most of us never knew what we could accomplish until we tried. I find life so much more fulfilling when I step into my discomfort zone. The people I most admire are the ones who come in last or at the back of the pack because I know that they put in a herculean effort to finish. In my book, it's okay to quit a race--sometimes it's the right thing to do. Report
Love this post! I've been following "Healthy Tipping Point" for awhile and Caitlin is always so inspiring. Even when things are difficult, it's important to stay positive and keep a good attitude, and Caitlin never fails to remind us of that. Thanks for everything you do, Caitlin! Keep up the amazing work, keep inspiring people, and keep blogging your races! =) Report
Very inspirational thanks for sharing! Report
Loved the video recap. Congrats on finishing the open water swim. I too have very serious issues with open water swimming. I swim competitively but only in pools. I also row singles, and work so hard every single time I row to overcome the fear that I will flip my boat and end up in the water. Having flipped twice, it makes me reconsider being on the openwater, but I can't seem to quit. I love the feeling of personal accomplishment, and everyday I row is one more day that I have beat down my greatest fear. I row Masters and I come in last everytime. But in my mind and heart I am first because I finish. Report
OMG! I am sitting here at work crying. Whats up with that???!!! Caitlyn, you ROCK!!!! Report
Well Caitlin, I read your blog, watched your video and read your "Tipping Point...." post. All I can say is, yours is the first blog I've put on my 'favorites' page since I joined in November, and,well, thank you. Thank you for the first try. Thank you for trying again. Thank you for being at least a little nervous about the swim. (It's water for goodness sake!) Thank you for the inspiration. I don't know how I'll use it yet but I will. Thank you for finishing and finally, thank you for reporting. Report
I had a very similar experience on May 16, 2010. I completed the San Diego Bay Bridge Walk. This was my first race ever and it included a climb up the bridge of over a mile in the middle of the 4 mile course. I started training in January, and I was just about the last person over the bridge. Through all my doubts and fears appeared a person who really can accomplish an impossible goal.

But I feel like the biggest winner ever! Three years ago I emailed a friend, saying that I would NEVER be able to do this walk. I believed that I would never do it, but thanks to Spark People I did do it. You can look at my Spark Blog from that day to see how I did it.

I encourage every one of you to pursue your dream. You know, that one you think you can't do? I know you will feel as wonderful as I do when you accomplish it. Report
While my life will never have "races or marathons" in them....years ago, I learned to push myself past the fear of deep water. If I couldn't feel the bottom of a lake or pool, I would panic.

At my first apartment, they had two pools - I forced myself to swim along the edge of the indoor pool, so if I panicked I could just reach sideways & feel the side. Soon I was swimming the length of the pool in any lane, I overcame my fear and I even slimmed down my bod a bit too!

After overcoming my fears....you couldn't get me out of the water! Report
This blog is awesome. It gives me hope and makes me want to move forward with my program. Report
I'm glad u had success although doing a triathlon wouldn't ever have interested me. I gave birth to five children, so I know that I have the stamina to do what ever I would have needed to do. Pushing out a 9# baby for three hours who was turned face-up taught me what endurance I had and NO, I didn't have an epidural since the military hospital doesn't believe in them. Report
How cool! Its better to start again and come in last, than to quit and never start over. Report
So inspirational, thank you for sharing. Report
Thank you! Very inspirational! Brought more than just one tear to my eye. Report
You brought a tear to my eye and made me remember the feeling of how amazing it is to cross that finish line knowing that you did it and nobody else. Its a very proud moment. Thanks! Report
I am scared of water so I can relate, my goal is to be able to get in a swimming pool when I can wear a swimsuit and feel confident. Good job for trying and finishing the race. Report
This video was just what I needed. Sometimes we get into a rut and don't want to put out the energy. You overcame your fear and persued your goal. My hat is off to you. You are truely inspirational. Whohooo Report
Cool!!! Way Cool!!! Reminds me to keep moving forward :-) Report
Congrats on your Tri!! And for conquering your fears!! Report
WooHoo! Way to go!!! Report
I am so proud of you getting in the water. I don't like open water either.Congrats on finishing and making it look like fun! Report
Way to go! When you want something bad enough never give up. The old saying if at first you don't succeed try, try again. Report
WOW you did it. Loved the video. What is next for you.
jo Report
Congratulations. When I've quit something, it is always hanging over me - in the back of my mind that I still need to do it. Like you, once it is accomplished - you are a winner no matter what! Thank you for sharing and congratulations Report
Thank you for sharing your blog with us. You make me want to work harder at reaching my goals. Report
Congrats!! That really took alot of courage. I quit taking care of myself the first time I was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. I did not listen and assumed it would go away. Not really feeling well for a couple of months, I decided to go to the doctor. The Typw 2 diabetes was still there along with a new diagnosis - high cholesterol. I quit and now I am a winner!! I follow-up with my doctor every 3 months to check my A1C & have my cholesterol checked. As of today, the cholesterol is under control. My diabetes is down to 1 medication & lots of exercise.!! Report
Wow! Thank you! I've been feeling like I haven't made much progress over the past month but watching this and thinking back, I realize I'm getting there. In your video, it occurred to me I can do something!! Report
Wow!! You are just so inspiring! SO many people NEVER go back and face their fears, leaving them with residual self-doubt that creeps into other areas of their life. You, on the other hand, show people what a cathartic act it can be work through the fear and persevere.

I've never done physical feats such as these, but it took me three times at doing a chemistry class to pass it...it felt SO good to finally pass it!! Report
Inspiring! I totally agree with you. It doesn't matter if I am the first or the last; rather it's the process, the personal effort and action that is the total win. Congratulations! Thanks for reminding me! I won't give up either! Report
This is one very inspiring blog and it gave a boost today to keep to my plan and not give up! Thank you! Awesome video!!!! Report
Thank you so much! This blog was so encouraging... It makes me want to start fresh and really conquer things! Report
Wow Congratulations....this is a great blog and YOU are such an inspiration. Report
This reminds me of my fear of running or jogging in public. Ever since from school, I always tried to get away from any activities involve running. Now, I'm still afraid but with my friends around me give me encouragement and advices, I think I can start, one baby step at a time. Probably will try slow jog first at park that my colleagues, friends and relatives rarely go, haha. Report
THANK YOU! I have not done my first tri YET... And this story just inspired me MORE to get going on my training. Report
Congrat!! overcoming your fear of water!! What an inspiration you are to so many!! :O) Report
WOW! I know I could never do that. I admire people like you who do. Great Post! Report