After dabbling in my younger years, I immersed myself in competitive running as an adult. But as anyone who has been running for a long time knows, running is like a model for the rest of life. So, while I was 29 years old when I started running, I was a 29 year-old baby runner. When, at 31, I raced my first marathon, there I was smack-dab on the precipice of my running adolescence. And like those teenaged people are wont to do, as a runner I vacillated between self-loathing and cockiness with metronomic precision.
I’m impossibly slow! One day later: I’m going to qualify for the Olympic Trials!
Without knowing how the real running world works, how not all progress is linear, how shit happens, at the point I qualified for Boston in my first marathon, I thought I could achieve anything with running. Shoot! It was a foregone conclusion. Baby, I’m going to be great!!!
And I was … for a while. With each success, my goals became more and more dreamy. That’s fine, but my goals weren’t just goals, you see. They were expectations. Because I, like any good regular teenager, was that awesome. I was destined to succeed!
And with each failure, I wrote a new excuse.
Well, I was stressed out.
Well, I just had a baby.
Well, I just had another one.
All of these things getting in the way of my destiny, none of them, conveniently, had anything to do with my greatness, you see. All of them were caused by someone else (yes, I know where babies come from, but bear with me). Once I got over this hurdle and that hurdle, you’d see how great I am. I’d prove it to you!
As the excuses/reasons/circumstances mounted, to the point of being insurmountable, there I stood with all my greatness and no way to prove it. I think I threw a year long tantrum about it.
But once I settled down, that’s when this adult-onset runner became an actual adult.
A defining characteristic of immaturity, of childhood or adolescence, is an inflated sense of self-importance, that everyone is fixated on you. Immature runners like I was imagine their peers firing up their laptops every Sunday afternoon scanning race results for the distinct purpose of judging us. I wanted to knock their socks off every time. But it suddenly occurred to me, standing at the foot of that insurmountable pile of excuses, feeling the frustration of seeing all my big dream running goals slip away, that no one worth their salt had those socks on to begin with. Nobody cared.
That sounds harsh, but I realized that they did not care about my running. People who mattered cared about me, who I am, what I do, who I help, or what I create. No one really cares if my 5k PR is 17:59 or 18:15. Or that I never did run a sub-3.
With new found humility, I reassessed running’s purpose in my life. Instead of stubbornly adhering to my training schedule and continuing to aim for all the arbitrarily oppressive deadlines I set for my running goals, I did the simple math that demonstrated how foolish this was. I could focus exclusively on running and maybe log PRs, or I could run when I felt like it, not be in pain, be present in my relationships, and direct my energies into something constructive.
Practically speaking, that was very adult of me. But on a more personal note, this come-to-Jesus moment with running revealed something even more profound: despite my life-long belief to the contrary, I have nothing to prove. I don’t need an OTQ to feel at peace with my messy house or to make up for my lack of professional achievements since leaving the workforce to raise my kids. I don’t need to fit into the club of fast runners or to have some tool box full of impressive accomplishments to fix me. It was time to strive for self-acceptance instead of striving for another achievement to hide behind.
This isn’t to say that pursuing big running dreams is in itself foolish. I don’t think that. I’ll be the first to root for you! GO! But a running achievement is only worth so much, and when the price of the sacrifices that training demands exceeds the value of the achievement itself, that’s when we need to grow up and make the wise investment in ourselves. And for me, as a runner I cared far too much about what others thought of me and, during the rest of my life to that point, I used quantifiable achievements to cope with feeling insignificant or to make meaning out of my life.
It was always and still is important for me to be the best that I can be. But, far more often than I realized, being the best I can be requires that I simply be.
Has running humbled you? Tell me about it!