I’m nervous. Really nervous.

I’m headed to Tempe, Ariz. for Collegiate Nationals. Right now. As in I’m rebelling on the plane and pulled out my laptop before they said we could use electronic devices. And then I ran to the bathroom as soon as the fasten seat belt sign went out. At least I’m hydrated.

Collegiate Nationals is the race for collegiate triathlon clubs. Schools like Berkeley and University of Colorado are known to dominate, and there are some professional triathletes in the mix. Three different races make up the weekend: a draft-legal race, capped at 75 athletes, an Olympic distance race, open to all, and a mixed team relay. The draft-legal race is an ITU style, fast-paced loop course with a 750-meter swim, 20K bike, and 5K run. In other words, if done right, it will be a little over an hour of sheer pain.

Naturally, I signed up for it.

The Olympic distance race involves a 1500-meter swim, 36K bike and 10K run. It’s a huge field and is much more up my alley; I raced Olympic-distance races all last season (err, well my only season to date). It’s broken up into three different waves. I’m in wave two, taking off at 7:40 a.m. P.T. (that’s 10:40 a.m. Saturday morning for Bloomington). I’m most excited for this race. It’s longer, a bigger field, and I can’t be lapped, well in theory.

It’s hard to believe how far I’ve come in this sport. This time a year ago, I didn’t know what a “brick” was (it’s a combo workout – you ride and then immediately run), I didn’t know the difference between carbon fiber and aluminum frames, I didn’t know what made something aerodynamic, I didn’t think about much other than finishing. Just finish. Preferably with a smile on my face. Now, a year later, I have a new coach and new training philosophies, a new purpose and a newfound sense of excitement, excitement for this weekend, this season and for the future. I cannot predict what will happen on the course this weekend, but I do know that by 10 a.m. Saturday morning, it will all be over. And I will be proud. I will be proud that I had the guts to face some of the best triathletes in the nation. Proud that I swam next to a professional triathlete, if only for 100 meters. Proud that I was willing to step out of my comfort zone and face the potential for failure.

I have nightmares about failure. It seeps into my mind and wraps itself around the positive thoughts, tucking them away, out of sight, out of mind. It tells me I’m not good enough. I’m not smart enough, fast enough, fit enough, attractive enough, until the only thought echoing throughout the vast abyss it has created within my mind is one thing: you are not enough. And you never will be.

This is what scares me the most.

I am afraid of failure. And failure can sense your fear. It thrives off of it. My fear feeds failure, creating a vicious cycle of self-doubt, disappointment and frustration, providing the constant reminders that maybe I really am not enough. Maybe that dream is a little too big, that goal a little too high. Maybe I should settle for the mundane. Maybe that’s not even settling, maybe that’s where I belong. These are my fears going into this weekend. These have been my thoughts, gnawing at my self-esteem.

Races scare me, because that’s all they really are: a face-to-face encounter with your potential for failure.

Failure taunts you every moment leading up to the starting line, reminding you of the missed splits, bad workouts and achy muscles. It revels in the unknowns, hoarding what-if after what-if until you can only visualize a race wrought with torn wetsuits, flat tires and bonked runs. It finds your greatest weakness and exalts it to your foremost thoughts, hanging down in front of you, mocking you for your feeble attempts toward greatness. “You don’t even know what greatness is,” it tells you.

But, you do.

Greatness doesn’t involve a trophy, podium or title. It doesn’t require the lightest bike or most expensive wetsuit; greatness cannot be measured in splits, pounds or miles. Greatness is within. Greatness is that feeling of exhilaration as you turn the corner out of transition ready to attack the run. Greatness is embracing every sore muscle and rebelling against the pain continuing to fight on. Greatness is taking pride in each step, forward or backward, knowing it’s all a part of this journey. My Journey. Greatness is personal. No one can sense it, but you; no one can feel it’s power, but you. Only you can embrace your greatness, just as only you can fall victim to failure.

This weekend, I am choosing to embrace my greatness. I am choosing to embrace this journey, every step of it. No one can predict the splits, speeds or competitors, no one can predict the weather on race day or the state of the roads. I am choosing to control the controllables. To race my race. To put it all on my line. To take this next step in my journey toward my dreams. This weekend, I am choosing to embrace my greatness. And I know, come 10 a.m. Saturday morning, I will have a smile on my face.

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