Someone once told me to write my own manifesto. So I did.
It's taped onto a cabinet door in my closet where I can read it when I need to. I don’t read it every day, but sometimes I stop and I read every word carefully trying to internalize it.
The definition of manifesto is: “a public declaration of policy and aims.”
I wrote it before going to Chattanooga, Tennessee to race in my first 70.3 Half Ironman on March 22nd of this year. I wasn’t really sure if I was capable or ready for it, even though I had trained and worked very hard.
Believing that I am not capable is a common mental place for me. It's easy for me to put myself down, and it's hard for me to build myself up. I was practically raised on the principle that I wasn’t capable. Growing up in the Swiss school system, in the Nineties, with a severe learning disability, was not something that ever made me feel capable. It’s a long story. It sticks with me. It’s part of me and my contradictory life.
Today I still have to work on believing and being okay with myself. Writing a manifesto really helped me enforce a positive language when it comes to “me”.
So here I was attempting a long distance race with a goal to finish in the top ten in my age group.
I finished the race 11th in my age group. It was an incredible race. But I didn’t get a placement. I got “lost” on the course.
There must have been 500 people running at once, sometimes in two directions. Some parts of the course were marked with blue tape and cones, in other places you just had to ”follow the herd“.
There were four turn-arounds on the two loop course; ins and outs, where you had to run back, turn around, and run back again. At one point I got so confused in the midst of all the people, that I lost my group. I weaved back in with a different group that I had passed at the aid station and realized that something wasn't right.
At that particular mile marker, helpers on all sides were shouting: “water!” “ice!”, “gatorade!”. There were people singing, people walking, people standing in my way … I should have stopped until I knew exactly where I was. It was disorienting. But I kept running like I so often do. ‘Just keep going.’
“What mile are you on?” I asked a runner to make sure that I was on track, but got no answer. “What mile is this?” I asked another but he couldn't hear me. The third person I asked said: “I don't know, mile 10?”
Oh no! I wasn't on mile 10. I was on mile 4. So I felt like I was running the wrong way. But I really wasn’t. I turned around, which now I know was a mistake, and ran back the other way.
That the guy who told me he was on mile 10, must have been on his second loop, did not occur to me after so many miles out in the race.
So thinking I had run too far, I actually missed 0.5 miles.
After I had crossed the finish line I went to the timing tent, thinking I had run too far. So I handed in my Garmin watch that had recorded the whole course just to make sure that they got my time right. I was still totally unaware that I actually had missed part of the course.
A couple of minutes later I got called back to the tent and the volunteer that was superior and “in charge” said, “So where are the 0.5 miles you missed?”
I didn't know what to say.
“You missed part of the course. It shows right here. You did a cheater’s loop.”
I had done 70.3 miles of racing and really didn't know what he was talking about. I was under the impression that I had run too far.
After a 1.4 mile swim, a 56 mile bike ride and a 13 mile run (0.5 miles short) and a total of 5 hours and 17 minutes out on the course, it really hurt to be called “a cheater”.
He was cold hearted about it too; like he was used to people cheating their way to the finish line all the time.
The Ironman foundation disqualified me, and gave me a “Did Not Finish”. I didn’t receive any points for my next race, nothing. It felt to me like it never happened.
It was a humiliating experience. Physically, I was perfectly fine, but mentally and emotionally I was crushed. Once again I had proven to be incapable. I couldn’t even finish a stupid Ironman race. I tore up my useless manifesto. I went back to my comfortable place of putting myself down.
In fact: I wrote another “public declaration” of complete self destruction.
Instead of declaring my goals for the future, I reinforced the principles of the past: I suck. All because some Ironman volunteer called me a cheater, and I didn’t get a placement for a race.
It occurred to me a few hard days later that I had achieved my goal, that I hadn’t been afraid to attempt a long distance race like that, that I had done my best. I realized that flogging myself and putting myself down for failing in the eyes of a volunteer, even giving him the power to overrule my own perception of what I was capable of, was totally wrong.
Living in negative thoughts and letting a “Did Not Finish” define who I was, really wasn’t getting me anywhere. So I rewrote my manifesto once again, redirecting it to what the best version of myself would look like. And that is what now hangs on my cabinet door.
I’ve heard so many times “don’t let other people tell you what you can or can’t do.” But it’s hard for me to believe that, because the power of doubt is so strong. I am not sure if anyone can relate to this feeling. Being “a better you” doesn’t just arrive like a package from Amazon. It takes hard work every day to believe that you are the best version of yourself and that you try every day to make the right choices.
I would recommend that everybody write their own manifesto. After my Ironman experience I sometimes still doubt whether I am cut out to do what I do. I struggle with confidence, and I know many others do too. But in the end I learned from this humbling experience that I don’t always have to “keep going”. Sometimes I have to slow down and regroup.
Don’t let anybody tell you what you can or can’t do. Don’t let anybody tell you that you’re a cheater when you’re not.
I will race another 70.3. Sometimes it sucks to suck it up.
Since it is a “public declaration” I will attach mine for inspirational purposes.
I now read my manifesto knowing that I am keeping a promise to myself. Even after the experience of “failing”, I did not give in to old habits but realized how much more wholesome and satisfying it is to think and believe that you can actually succeed with positivity.
At almost 40 years old I learned that I don't have anything to prove to anybody. I can just be me.