I never sucked at anything until I started running.
I should clarify: I didn’t truly suck at running, but, as a perfectionist by nature, finishing mid-pack felt like failure. As a kid, I was really good at school. I played softball and was pretty good at that. I took up violin and sat first chair in our district. I wasn’t so hot at gymnastics, but there was no objective measure of competence, so I didn’t really notice that I wasn’t the best.
But in running? I was mediocre at best. And that hurt.
I could have given up and stuck with activities that came easy to me, but instead I dug in and charged forward. I looked for other rewards in running, like friendships and the healthy energy I felt afterward. I also had to learn to quit the comparison game. That sure is easier said than done and, admittedly, I’m a work in progress.
I also learned how to work hard, work smart, and to be patient. In high school, I thought our 30-35 mile weeks were the only way of doing things and fell into the trap of trying to run too hard on most days. It wasn’t until the end of college that I learned how hard I could work, pounding out 70-80 mostly slow mile weeks, week after week.
Then I started winning. One thing I learned about winning, though, is that even when you’re leading the pack, there’s still a heck of a lot of failure involved. Even when I started to compete to win, I usually didn’t meet my time goal or someone else got to the finish line first (often many someones). Injury, weather, and illness ruined many of my goals, no matter how much hard work I’d put in. I had to learn that success in running is often a two-steps-forward-one-step-backwards process.
I embraced failure as an essential part of running and it was only then that I really excelled. I even discovered that I enjoyed putting myself into situations where failure was possible. I entered a national championship race with the slowest seed. I moved to a foreign country without speaking the language. I put my writing on the internet here! I would never have done any of these things, I wouldn’t even be who I am today, if running didn’t teach me that failure is just a part of doing anything worthwhile.
So, thank you running, for curing me of my perfectionism, for giving me a taste for healthy risks, and for teaching me how to fail with grace. Without imperfection and uncertainty, I would have missed so much in life!