[delayed post. pretend it’s 2 weeks ago…]

On Sunday I participated in my 3rd Falmouth Sprint Triathlon (and 4th Tri ever), but stay with me here, because this post is not just about triathlons. It’s also about what I watched on TV Sunday afternoon and startups… 

In my first triathlon, I blew a tire with 2 miles left in the bike leg, so I ran it in and finished in ~1h7m. My 2nd time I actually knew what I was getting into and cut my time to ~1h1m (but I was docked 2m for a penalty, which to this day goes unexplained). Oh well.

But this year, I had a good race. No big issues. I’m finally figuring these things out. Here are my results:

SWIM - 1/3mi :: Time: 6:58 :: Rank: 159 :: Transition 1: 2:19

My time wasn’t great (I love the ocean, but I don’t swim enough and I don’t have great technique. I’m used to having a surf-board underneath me), but it wasn’t terrible either. My rank, out of ~800 racers is decent, but the difference between me and most people is a matter of seconds, maybe a couple minutes. Not huge.

What killed me is the transition time. Easily the worst time out of the top 35. Maybe I shouldn’t wear my surfing wetsuit which doesn’t come off as easy as a tri-suit… maybe I shouldn’t wear one at all? Maybe I just need to be faster. Point is, something needs fixing. Dang. On to the bike… 

BIKE - 9mi :: Time: 24:31 :: Rank: 15th :: Transition 2: 1:33

15th! I knew I had a solid ride, but I’m the 3rd owner of a bike I bought on Craigslist and use for commuting in NYC while most racers are on $X000(0!) carbon fiber tri bikes. Regardless, I crushed it… but again, that transition time. Ugh… I could buy the fancy tri shoes with the drawstring laces, but does that really matter? 

RUN - 3.1mi :: Time: 21:20  :: Rank: 33 

Meh… like… really meh. The run is usually where I make up some time, but I felt a sharp cramp as soon as I started and it spooked me. I paced myself the rest of the way and didn’t turn on the after-burners soon enough. I’m guessing it was the hard biking that got me.

Total Time: 56:42 :: 35th overall :: 6th in my division

All in all, a solid performance given how little time I’ve had to train for this thing, but I said this wasn’t about triathlons so let me try to reach for significance here… 

Looking back on the race now, I can point to many small things that would’ve saved me some time here or there. Individually, nothing that would’ve guaranteed me a spot on the podium, but combined and I’d be in the running to go home with some hardware (or in the case of a race in a small seaside town… a buoy).

Then, while waiting for the Women’s World cup to come on TV, I caught coverage of the 2010 Ironman Triathlon in Hawaii. (Relevant, much?) In it, Craig Alexander was top dog, set to win his 3rd in a row. He even raced his fastest time ever on that course… but he didn’t win. He didn’t even place. How do you explain that?

Truth is, you can’t point to one single thing (like a crash) and say “there, that’s the reason.” He just wasn’t as fast as the other guys that particular day.

Then… USA vs. Japan in the Women’s World Cup. USA suffers a heartbreaking loss in penalty kicks after hitting countless pipes, missing crosses and seemingly dominating the first half. Can you point to Hope Solo [the US goalkeeper] and say “You lost it for us. Right there, you should’ve made that save.”? No fucking way.

That’s the beauty of sports and that’s the beauty of life. There are myriad ways for any given scenario to fan out and there are henceforth endless possibilities from every stroke, every footfall, every play.

So how does one win? 

I’ll be honest, I still don’t know. If I had the answer for that, I wouldn’t be writing this post [I’d be saying this], but there is one thought that keeps coming back to me in regards to these highly competitive scenarios…

You have to strive for a ‘perfect game.’

It’s nearly impossible to achieve, but if you don’t, you’ll never put yourself in a position to succeed. Your competition certainly isn’t going to let you win. In the case of Craig Alexander, he probably thought “oh, I’ll catch those guys.” U.S. Women’s soccer? Got a goal and backed off. Tie game. Got another and backed off again… tie game. Ugh… 

By now, you’ve probably already made the jump and figured out how this relates to startups. There are a million things working against you and your startup. Your job is to eliminate those risks and TRY to play a perfect game, to keep hustling, to execute on your vision… 

Well… not to ruin the surprise here, but you’re not going to play a perfect game. In reality you’re probably going to play the ugliest, scrappiest, hardest-hitting game around. You’re going to have a bad transition time. You’re going to let in a bad goal… but you’re going to keep playing, one way or another, and you’ll love it… because that’s why you play the game.