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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OMG! What an absolue inspiration! The tears are still rolling down my face. Knowing you were afraid of that water ...as you were walking/running towards the shore is just so powerful. What an honor to have watched your achievement! Thank you...you have just made me a better person~ Report
Great blog! Congrat's for facing your fears....and overcoming them.
You are an inspiration! Report
brought tears to my eyes! Report
Very motivating - congratulations and thanks for sharing! Report
I could read this every time I question myself great story I simply loved it Report
Great job! What a way to conquer your fears! Thanks for sharing! Report
Thanks for sharing. Report
Congrats on achieving a personal win! Those are the best! You're right sometimes finishing last can be more rewarding than finishing first. Report
Good gravy, woman!!! I hear about these triathlons, but didn't realize what one actually looks like until seeing your video. Kudos to you for getting into that water, and kudos to you for finishing the race!!! Woo hoo!!! Report
Congratulations for facing your fear and "doing it anyway"! Your video brought tears to my eyes. Report
WOW!!! That's really inspiring. Report
I love her blog! She is so positive and excited about life! It's really inspiring. : ) Report
Awesome blog! Report
I spent 32 years in the Canadian Military where quitting was not an option. There was always someone there to push you beyond what you had set as your own limits. I learned very early not to set limits and therefore did more than I ever dreamed I could do. I went places and achieved dreams that most are afraid to try. I understand fully how you felt when you finished that swim. I have felt that way many times. Since leaving the military, I have had to relearn those lessons and Sparkpeople has helped with that. I have tried to take "I can't" out of my vocabulary. Thank you for reminding me how great it feels to finish something you thought you couldn't do. I think you are great! Keep up the good work. Report
Wonderful blog. Loved the video. I got teary eyed reading the blog BUT the video finished me. Had to wait to post this comment until I could see the keys. You are a great inspiration. Report
I've always steered clear of running. I would say "I'm not built to run", but you have inspired me to start running! Thank you Report
I am training right now for my 2nd 5K. I am running more than I ever have. It is truly amazing what you can do if you put your mind to it. I think I might train towards a 10K. Way to go on your triathlon. You are truly an inspiration! Keep it up! Report
Sitting here sniffling in my office. Thank you for sharing. You have such incredible drive and spirit. Congratulations. Report
Bravo!! Congratulations on completing the Tri. I am deathly afraid of the water, but you have inspired me to at least consider doing a mini-triathalon! Report
Thank you so much for this blog. I am in this place right now. All of my fears are about the water. I can swim and have taken lessons...but I have a fear of losing steam and screwing up all my other legs in the water. Report
I was so excited to see a blog from Caitlin this morning. I love her blogs! She is such a huge inspiration and I learn a lot from her.

She has almost convinced me to start doing races (ahh if they only weren't so early in the morning!) Report
Congratulations in facing your fear & taking control.

Swimming has always been my 'go to' activity - my dad was a swimming instructor & taught me to swim in the lake! I became a swimming instructor - Red Cross, Royal Life & eventually SCUBA. Love the water!

The one activity I had to quit was downhill skiing. Last time I skiied I managed to dislocate both knees at once. Decided that I would choose other activities to stress my knees with - things I really love to do, like riding. Report
I just cried watching your video. I've completed sprint triathlons and have the same fear of water, but that feeling when you cross the finish line is so amazing! Way to go! Very inspiring!! Report
I got goose bumps at the end from the excitement you must have felt crossing that finish line...WAY TO GO!!!!!!!!!
Mahalo to proving once again, that we can do anything we set our minds to! Report
My first swim in open water was a team triathalon and I remember getting kicked and punched. It really made a difference to just do it at my own pace and just get out of the water. Luckily, our biker and runner were incredible athletes and finished first!

Congrats for overcoming your fear of the open water! Report
Awesome blog, my massage therapist completed an Iron Man a year ago. The most amazing part was she didn't know how to swim a year before she did it. She, like you, was deathly afraid of deep water. It is amazing to hear your feelings. I ran a half marathon a couple of weeks ago and didn't get the exact results I was hoping for. BUT I learned from the race and my mind is sharper. Often times we learn more from our failures then successes. If you don't try you will never know. Great story! Report
Thanks - this was just the right thing at the right time. I was beating myself up for skipping weight training this morning. I just didn't feel up to it. So I'll give my body a rest, and then get back in the saddle. Report
Thats awesome.. great going...very happy for you!!! Report
Your story made me cry... Congrats on not giving up! Keep up the good work and may your triumph be encouraging to us all! Report
Very inspiring, especially the video. Congratulations !! Report
I'm happy for you!! Report
way to go....i am inspired to get out there and try something like this....maybe start with a 5 k run until I can get in better shape though.... Report
Good for you for completeing the race and proving to yourself you could do it. How accomplished you must feel!!!!!! Report
Congrats, I love swimming but I am not sure I can do open water!! Report
I'm doing a tri a tri on Saturday morning. Will now take with me inspiration from your experience. Thanks and congratulations!! Report
Yes, you did it! CONGRATULATIONS!!! Thank you for your motivational blog. Report
Good for you! I would like to do a triathlon someday - I have the running part down, but I haven't yet learned to turn corners on the bike and I don't know how to swim AT ALL so I admire people who can tri! Report
Amazing - congrat's to you for overcoming your fears! Report
I was a runner since I was 6, I wanted to keep up with my uncles that were 8 & 10 years older than me. But after college I quit, shin splints were my reason. I have rediscovered the wonder of the world of running. I enjoy the feeling of completing the distance, hearing my running mates feet hit the ground, and knowing that my body can do this. Haven't got the body completely back but it is definetely moving in the right direction. Report