I was addicted. After completing my first organized race since high school, I was eager to get back out there and test my grit. That night when I got home, I opened my computer and signed up for every race within 50 miles for the next three months. Immediately, I felt pressure, but realized this as a feeling that I could start to get used to. Forcing myself to commit mentally as well as financially, was a way to ensure that I could not give up. I closed my computer and laid down ready for 6am to wake up and train, but my heart raced with anticipation.
The first of my races was the following weekend. It was different style than the others as it was a trail run. Set in an area of the park with a lot of hills and rocks, some parts were less of a run and more of a hike. Nonetheless, I felt prepared and showed up ready to rock. With around 200 participants mostly composed of students from the local university, the field was tough and I was four to eight years older than most of the other runners. Despite this, I remained confident as the gun went off.
One thing that I didn’t anticipate about this race was the opening hill. Although subjected to its wrath almost immediately, you can’t see it from the starting line. The race starts on a gradual incline for the first 400 meters, wraps around a big turn to the left and then again to the right after another 100 meters. All of this made the jolly green giant invisible right until the point where you’re standing at the bottom looking up to the top in awe. This hill in no joke and casually placed right at the point where the pre-race jitters are starting to wear off. These same jitters have a tendency to make me start races faster than I intend, and in this particular setting, provided me with an unexpected challenge as I started up the hill.
Unlike my last race, our leading pack was much larger, probably due to the younger median age of the runners; I wasn’t breaking away like I had anticipated. As I approached the top the hill in second place, already exhausted, I was feeling the burn like never before. I looked behind me to see a field of eight or nine other runners right on my heels. As we pushed through the first mile I held tight for second place, but felt my will and pace falling apart at an equal rate.
Somewhere around the two-mile marker, I felt like giving up. I had fallen to seventh place and still had other runners behind me, catching up with each stride. The leader was out of sight and so was my chance at taking home first place. It was here that a long series of conversations took place in my mind. Call it the ego and the id or the classic devil and angel on each shoulder scenario, but the dialogue between me and myself was very real with each side seeming to carry valid points. By the time I decided to listen to the angel and realize that I didn’t go there to quit, we had already approached the three-mile marker where giving up seemed senseless.In close races, there is no room for doubt. Your body is running at such a high level, that any trace of doubt has drastic consequences: when your mind starts to fall apart so does your performance. This was my first time dealing with this type of problem in a competitive setting, and the first time that I understood what it felt like to be passed. Through all of my training and even my first race I was able to avoid this scenario. As I watched the next three runners pass me by, I found out my unbreakable spirit was not so unbreakable.
Taking each stride with a less than satisfactory mindset, I started in on the final hill. Just like the opening hill, this one too was no joke. Lasting around 400 meters in total ascent, it was really the final nail in the coffin of an unprepared runner. It seemed to be set at around a 45-degree angle, and after a long run full of elevation changes, it took everything I had to push through to the finish line. I had fallen to ninth place and felt like I had come in last. As I crossed the finish line, the leaders were already off to the side stretching and cooling down from a race they seemed to attack with ease. I felt like an outcast in a place that I didn’t belong.
I drove home that night and sat alone on my porch. As difficult as it was to sift through my disappointment and find the silver lining, I did my best to use this experience as an opportunity to grow. I realized that with the success and small victories along the way, also comes tough lessons. That as many steps as we take forward, sometimes life has plan of its own, and the occasional step back is an inevitable part of the journey.I was mentally defeated. As I sat and watched the final walker cross the finish line, I noticed how happy she was. How her smile, which spanned from ear to ear, truly conveyed her excitement to show up that day and give it her best. It became apparent to me that she didn’t lose at all.
The heart of a champion is a testament of the ability to endure: to face defeat, time and time again, learn from the experience, and continue to push forward with the willingness and drive to succeed once more. I knew I had lost and let myself walk away with a poor attitude, but I made the decision to not let that race define my future. As I came to this realization, I knew this was my silver lining. I walked back inside, put on my reflective gear, grabbed my headlamp and decided to go for a run