Remembering the WHY

Exactly one year ago today, I qualified for the Boston Marathon. Years of hard work, dedication and commitment to a goal had finally paid off. Now (except for that pesky training for another marathon part) I could relax and celebrate all the way up until April 19, 2021 when I would get to cross the finish line on Boylston street! It was like waiting for Christmas! Except that is not what happened at all. In March of 2020, the world and racing came to a screeching halt. Boston 2020 was postponed and then changed to a virtual race and Boston 2021 is an uncertainty. What started as a year of excitement and planning turned into a year of doubt, fear, and anxiety.

I tried to shift my running focus. What virtual race or challenge might excite me? Perhaps this would be a good time for something new or different! Every time I tried to do a hard workout or virtual race I would enter the pain cave and quickly abort the mission. What was I doing? Why was I there? Why did I want to run so hard, to push myself like that? I must admit that I also allowed myself to engage in some self pity, even though I know that worrying about running and racing while the world is burning to the down is downright silly. I remembered all of the times I had pushed myself last year and thought of it as a “waste.” I had to take several steps back because I couldn’t see the forest for the trees. I asked myself, what is your WHY? Yes, qualifying for and running Boston is a great running goal, but is that really the WHY? Is that what gets you out the door every morning? The answer, of course, is a resounding no.

I believe that running goals are two dimensional. There is the lowercase why that gets you to do a specific workout (ie, “I will do this tempo run because I am training for a half marathon with a certain time goal.”) and then there is the all-caps WHY. This is the WHY that gets you out the door every morning, the WHY that helps you get through the pain cave. The lowercase why might be able to help you somewhat in the pain cave, but you need the uppercase WHY to dominate it. The uppercase WHY is what keeps you going day after day, year after year, long after that race you trained for is over.

I love this Lauren Fleshman quote, and it so eloquently captures my WHY.

“The more I pushed myself in running, the more I discovered the weaknesses of my mind. These were the same dragons lurking in my life. To compete is to voluntarily come into contact with your dragons so you can learn to slay them.” ~Lauren Fleshman

I struggle with all sorts of weaknesses in my mind, including self-doubt and impostor syndrome. There is no room for thoughts like that when you are trying to execute a difficult workout. The hard runs give me a playing field upon which I can learn to navigate my mental demons and come out triumphantly. If I can beat them on the track, I can beat them in other places, too.

Running without races on the horizon has also reminded me that I love running just for the sake of running. Running is how I connect with nature and my sisters in sport – many of whom I am missing dearly since we have not been training together for most of the year. It really is easier to stay motivated when you are training with your friends! Running is an escape from the realities of 2020, the one thing that has felt somewhat “normal” during an anything but normal year.

Finally, this year has been a stark reminder to be mindful of the things I can control and the things I cannot control. I can’t control Covid, I can’t control whether there will be a Boston 2021, and I can’t control whether my qualifying time at CIM will be good enough to get me there. Just like I can’t control the weather on race day or the outcome of a race on any other year. I can, however, control the work I continue to put in each day and my attitude. 

I believe that I will cross the finish line on Boylston Street. I don’t know if it will be in 2021, 2022, or 2026. What I do know is that I will continue to look for joy in the journey and in doing so will continue to learn more about myself. It turns out it was never about chasing the unicorn or catching the unicorn. It was about becoming the unicorn.

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