The last week has held a few realizations for me, and probably only show my view of myself catching up to the image that others actually see of me.
When I started running in late 2006, and training for triathlons in the middle of 2008, I always envied the other guy. It seemed almost every other guy was in better shape, knew what they were doing and were confident about what they did. Of course just being around them made me even more likely to seem, or at least feel, overweight, slow and inept (or at least unfamiliar with what I was doing). Yet, I still kept with it because I had a dream in my mind that I wasn't letting anyone take from me.
That dream was that one day I would be better, faster, stronger and, most of all, healthier. All of these began to come true at excruciatingly slow paces, but they did happen. The other thing that happened is that I earned the respect of my fellow athletes. Often I thought them being more kind than truly respectful, but even that concern for my feelings (as I perceived it) was welcome.
In the last week several things happened in close order that got my attention. It's not that some of these things had not happened before, but those that did never quite resonated with me at those times. These recent events include another triathlete at last week's race coming up to me after the race and telling me that with under 2 miles to go on the run he saw me about two minutes behind him and because he said I was a better runner than him, he made it his goal to stay ahead of me through the end of the race (which he did, crossing the finish line about 30 seconds before me). [Fortunately, for me he was in an age group that started the race ahead of mine.] I have done this with other athletes before and took this as a huge compliment, especially since he came up to me and told this to me after the race. Another such instance was one of the faster runners I know telling me I needed to come run with their group more often. The slow runner does not get asked by such people to run with them, and I know I am not so slow any more, but I didn't really think anyone ever noticed me. Another thing is that I have had several of the newer athletes in my training group asking me questions about this race or about my opinion of this piece of equipment or some specific technique...... I had always been the guy with the questions and not the answers. I still have a lot of questions, but I have learned that I do know quite a few answers as well.
So, I am not the best athlete, and I am certainly far from the fastest athlete, but I never wanted to be those things. Somewhere in these last few years I did manage to become the athlete I wanted to be: I am in better shape, I can keep up with the groups (well, most of them) and I generally know what I am doing most of the time. I've also learned what it was like to be the guy I once was and to watch out for him (or her) and be able to help them when they need it now and then; and I have realized that maybe, just maybe, some of those "other guys" that helped me out before really did know what it was like to be me and really did respect me for the athlete that I was, regardless of how slow or far back I was.