So, I ended up doing much better than I expected in my 5k run on Thursday. I was so nervous going into it. I’m not sure why, but I think it was because I haven’t engaged in any competition at all this year, and also because I was convinced that I would embarrass myself in front of my co-workers, who were all expecting fantastic times.
As it turned out, I came in first at my company, and 20th out of 150 some men. It was quite a shock to me, but in the process I learned a lot about myself and my body.
Running a race is not like other sports. It’s almost impossible to size up the competition. In basketball you can make assumptions based on height, in wrestling, based on build. But good runners come in all shapes and sizes, and when you’re lined up with 300 other people, there’s no telling a head of time where you stand.
And once you start it doesn’t matter. Once the gun goes off, it’s not a competition against anyone except yourself. It’s a contest between your body which is telling you to slow down and your mind which is saying, “Speed up!” Or at least it should. It seemed like half the time my mind was working against me as well.
This went on through out the whole race. I could look at people up ahead and tell myself that I was going to try to keep pace with them and try to catch up. However, the only time I was really able to gain any ground was when–instead of looking at other around me–I pushed aside my own negative thoughts and pushed aside the discomforts of running for the sake of a faster stride that I was able to gain any ground.
Throughout the race, I knew that I would have to overlook my own shortcomings if I was to succeed. I learned at the one mile marker that my weaknesses were not going to help me at all during the next two miles. Weaknesses were of no use. They would accomplish nothing. Only my strengths would be of use in trying to finish this race.
I have many weaknesses and shortcomings. These have no benefit in any circumstance. However, understanding my weaknesses is one of the first steps to take to corner and nurture my strengths. And that was how the second mile went. I found my pace and my stride. I focused on the energy moving me forward and not on the fatigue that would only slow me down. With this I was able to hold my position and even gain ground on the pack ahead.
In the third mile, my weaknesses were apparent. I had been sweating profusely throughout the second mile, and now my arms were becoming heavy. I would have thought that swinging them at my sides in the nearly frictionless air would be the easiest movement. My back also was becoming tired. I didn’t even know that my back was an active participant in this run. My legs kept going even though breathing became more of a challenge.
The most difficult part of the end of this race was not knowing where the finish line was. The first two miles were clearly marked, but the final stretch had many twists and turns, cutting back and across the path. In addition to that, a 5k is 3.2 miles, and each mile became increasingly difficult so I had an impossible time judging how close I was to the finish.
Many times, tasks and challenges are like that. It gets more difficult when the end of a task or challenge is near, and it’s most difficult when the end is not in site. This was no different. I wanted to keep up my pace and run steadily to the end, but with no end in sight, doubts crept in, voices saying, “You can’t do it, the finish line is still far off, you’ll have to slow down if you plan to finish.”
But, just as I was getting ready to give in and slow down, I rounded the final corner, and out of nowhere, the finish line was in front of me. The excitement of seeing the finish line gave me an extra boost of strength that I used to transition from a run to sprint. I felt light, like I was just starting out…for the first 20 yards.
Then the previous three miles shouted: “Slow down!” But I didn’t listen, and I ran as hard as I could across the finish line, passing one unsuspecting competitor as I finished.
I finished exhausted. But that’s exactly how it’s supposed to be. If I had anything left in me after I finished I would have been disappointed that I didn’t use it on the course.
At the end of the race, I knew my weaknesses played no part in my success. Only my strengths mattered. I’m now going to be looking for other ways to apply this thinking. I can, I think, be aware of my weaknesses without letting them interfere with my strengths or goals.
The challenge will be to figure out how.