I'm always looking for fun ways to challenge myself. As someone with an extreme Type-A personality, anything that isn't challenging can feel pretty boring. As the renowned New York Times Bestselling author Malcolm Gladwell says, "I don't look at things as difficult. I prefer to look at them as fun....because if it's not difficult, then it's not fun."
With this in mind, in September, I hesitantly signed up for the Rock 'n' Roll Half-Marathon. I was in my heaviest semester or coursework yet, I had just started my new job with the ASU Herberger Institute, and I had just started teaching a handful of private students. Excuses were plentiful and I nearly didn't sign up under the alibi of "I'm too busy and now isn't a good time for this," but was there ever going to be a good time?? Probably not any time soon - so here we go.
Training was going well until experiencing an increasingly sharp pain in my right knee in late October. To say I was an amateur runner is perhaps an understatement, so I didn't think proper running shoes were a necessary expense (college kids are way too young to have knee problems, right?!). Consequently, I paid a great physical cost, and then decided it necessary to pay the financial cost to get shoes that would allow me to run the marathon.
Fast-forward one month, and I still hadn't run a single mile outside. The pain just wouldn't go away. I nearly dropped out of the race, thought of returning the shoes to get my money back, and considered quitting distance-running altogether. It seemed my body wasn't going to heal and I simply wasn't cut out for this. But I decided to wait a little longer, and my knee was nearly healed by December. I got up to nine miles the week of the race before feeling significant pain.
A half-marathon is 13.1 miles. Because of injury, I never ran more than nine miles, and only on a handful of occasions did I even go over six. I felt incredibly under-prepared and really had no clue what was going to happen on race day, but at this point, any finish within the four-hour limit would've been fine with me.
Long-story short, the race went WAY better than expected! I had no intention of caring about my time (predicting that it would be pretty pathetic), and despite feeling more pain in my knee, I was just super excited to be out on the road for the event, and was able to run through it to go faster and further than I had in my life for a time of 2:16:56 - 10:14 mins/mile (Though I wasn't racing for time, Rock 'n' Roll made me predict a time for placement purposes at the starting line. I predicted 3:30:00 - 16:02 mins/mile).
So.....here are my three interesting take-aways from this experience:
1. Don't fear the unknown.
All my excuses for quitting throughout this process boiled down to me thinking the race would be much harder than it actually was. I didn't know how hard it may or may not be, but I had a sort of scared, pessimistic view of what it might be. However, this was just because I didn't know what I was dealing with yet, and I wasn't able to see the Half-Marathon for what it really was. Similarly, if seen from the right angle at the right time of day, the shadow of what appears to be a grizzly bear could in fact be a harmless teddy bear. Perspective makes a big difference, and you should never assume the worst until you're certain of what you're dealing with.
As Newt Scamander from Fantastic Beasts says, "If you worry, you suffer twice."
2. When used incorrectly, helpful tools become harmful distractions.
I felt pretty out of place throughout race weekend because everyone else seemed to know so much more about running than I did. All over the race expo were booths with people talking about special running shirts, shorts and socks, special forms of hydration, and special snacks with certain amounts of carbs, proteins, sugars etc. Meanwhile, I was running in my favorite Denver Broncos-colored Nike shirt with a plain bottle of water, and my only snack during the race was a Sour Punch Straw that a bystander handed me (it was delicious)!
I thought this was really odd and interesting because I was able to finish quicker than people who had better equipment, better nutrition/hydration, and more knowledge on how to train properly and avoid injury. Used correctly, all these things could certainly be helpful. They could've helped me run a lot better too, and I admire the fact that these people were dedicated enough (a lot more dedicated than me!) to do their research and give themselves every advantage they could.
However, when you think you need a certain drink or snack for energy, you can end up giving yourself a psychological crutch. In reality, you could probably run the entire race without stopping once, but because you thought you needed to stop three times to eat and re-hydrate, you finished 5 minutes later than you could have (like I initially was, many of these people weren't terribly concerned with their time, but I still thought it was an interesting observation).
How often does this happen to us in life? I think oftentimes we don't apply for a job, don't take an audition, or don't take some other risk because we mistakenly think we don't have the resources (time, money, education, experience etc.) that we need to accomplish that goal. Sometimes instead of obsessively trying to gather the right resources, what you really need to do is just be quiet and run towards whatever your "finish line" may be, one step at a time. And as I discovered in signing up for the race, there will never be a "perfect time" for anything, so you might as well go for it now!
3. Don't make big decisions when you're depressed.
While checking my split times (times measured throughout the race) later that day, I was surprised to see that my pace at the end was significantly faster than it was in the beginning of the race. Everyone's obviously most tired at the end of the race, but I was really, really excited just to be so close to the finish line! I had really missed running while I was injured. It was a really difficult and disappointing time, so to be at that point in the race felt a little surreal. I was grateful and excited as could be just to be there on the course and know that I had almost made it to the end, and I was so glad I turned down the opportunities to quit!
I think all of us could stand to remember this rule a little more often. It's so easy to lose all sense of hope when things aren't going well. If it wasn't for my incredibly supportive training partner, I can guarantee I would have given up during training (thank you Alexis!!). We all face those dark times in our life - sometimes in our career, sometimes in our health, sometimes in our relationships. This experience has taught me that when those moments strike, it can be very helpful to surround yourself with people you're close too, and then give yourself time to calm down. Remove yourself from the stressful situation, and then you can place yourself in the optimal state of mind necessary to make an informed decision on how to move forward. People rarely doubt the hard work and time they've invested in something after receiving the reward for it.
At every given moment in life, we are either in a storm, coming out of a storm, or headed into a storm. With that in mind, let us learn how to accept the challenges life throws at us, gather all of our strength, and trust that the knowledge of hindsight will prove each storm to make us better and stronger than ever before.