There's nothing more humbling than getting passed. All of us have to deal with it, some more than others. As I got faster at running, it happened less frequently. Ninety-five percent of the time I do the passing. This has been nice for my ego. But it's a mirage, of course. There's always someone much faster than me in the park, only he didn't start at the right place to pass me. It's dumb luck.
Races are useful reminders of this. My worst running experience was at the Boston Marathon in 2003. That seems strange to say considering I had one marathon where I collapsed 100 yards from the finish and was hospitalized. The reason Boston sucked was I went in cocky. I'd just shaved 25 minutes off my marathon time to run a 3:02 in Chicago. Heading to Boston, I figured I'd run a 2:55. That didn't happen. I went out way too fast on a warm day and realized at mile 10 that the next 16 miles would suck. The thing that made it so bad was getting passed. Not a few people, but dozens, maybe hundreds of people went by me while I proceeded to run the second have of the race a half hour slower than the first. There wasn't much I could do about it. Still, I never felt worse after a race. I think I felt sorry for myself because of the passing.
I've been thinking more about getting passed now that I'm swimming and biking. On Friday night, I went to the YMCA to do laps. I swam for years as a kid. I honestly think the only thing that got me through practices at Whitemarsh was the awful feeling of the person behind me touching my toes. In the grown-up world, few people are that aggressive, although it does happen in NYC. At this point, I'm a mediocre swimmer. On a typical day, there are more people slower than me than faster. That leaves quite a few people faster than me. Swimming is so technical that the faster swimmers can surprise me. On a completely surface level, I feel like I'm more fit. But they have much, much more skill and experience, so I'm passed by men and women, the skinny and lithe and the not so much. It reminds me how I must improve my technique, not so much to keep from getting passed but to spend less energy. The hardest part of going from distance running to swimming is the urge to gut it out. That will kill a triathlon because you'll leave it all in the water and gain very little.
The same is true on the bike. I'm just now riding outside, keeping myself to loops in Central Park. My goal right now is just getting comfortable riding and putting in time in the saddle. Like the pool, I'm a middle of the pack cyclist. I'm not riding a Cervelo or anything, and I'm not used to going fast. It frankly scares me to go too fast down hills. I pass many more people than pass me, but still cyclists of all shapes, sizes and ages motor by me. My attitude is c'est la vie, excpet for one circumstance: on a big hill. Here, I've tried to replicate my running attitude, which is attack the hill. I love passing people on hills. It might be a toughness thing. This tact in cycling has met with mixed success. I get too excited early on in the hill, I think, rather than finding a gear that will let me consistently power up the incline. A few times today, I found myself in the humbling position of looking for a lower gear when there wasn't one on the Great Hill in Central Park. Once a guy in jeans on a mountain bike went by me. Ouch.
I accept these things in stride to a degree. Modest success in running doesn't automatically translation to new activities. I'm improving, which is really the only important thing. Getting passed is a useful reminder of how much more work needs to be done. It still bugs me, though.