It was not the race I wanted. That event began fifteen minutes earlier, and I watched with a mix of envy and disappointment as its runners passed the starting line. Now, as the loud speaker blared, “Runners, on your mark,” I had the sinking feeling that even my second choice race may end in defeat.
Setbacks provide a painful reminder of our frailty. They discourage us because they prevent us from achieving our goals on our timetable. And surrendering, accepting the setback as fatal, can embitter us and even cause us to quit. These are the choices I have wrestled with lately.
I signed up for my first full marathon back in the spring. I gave myself plenty of time to train, dedicated myself to a tested training program, and enjoyed the highs of new distance records. Then a confluence of events and their ramifications caused a setback in the last six weeks of training—too little time to regain what had been lost, but too much time to think about what might have been.
So, this morning, I watched the full marathon runners rather than being one of them. While that was disappointing, I started my day and my half-marathon run anticipating defeat.
Note to self: salad bars may seem like a healthy eating option, but the perception only holds true if no food-borne illnesses lurk among the leafy greens and vibrant toppings. This note to self is brought to you by my lunch a day before the race. And it explains why I woke up sick to my stomach. This is not the way you hope to feel on the morning of a long run (or any morning, for that matter!). As I considered the hand I had been dealt, the temptation to fold grew.
The beginning of the race was awesome. The event was so well organized and the woman handling the PA system had the right mix of information, enthusiasm, and humor. (Thanks, Rochester, NY!) My first mile flew by, and that feeling of freedom and confidence remained until the third mile. At that point, the route began about a two-mile incline—not a hill, exactly, but a subtle incline. By the fourth mile, I was seriously considering stopping and asking the next police officer to call my wife.
As I argued with myself, some commotion ahead fought for my attention. A man with a bullhorn was calling out the time and pace at the five-mile mark. I decided to see where I was at that point, expecting to be so far behind my normal pace that quitting would seem logical. But, to my amazement, I was slightly ahead of my normal pace. How then, I thought, could I quit? Yes, my stomach was empty, but my hunger turned its focus on the finish line.
Long story short, I finished the 13.1 miles. I did not have the energy to sprint to the finish line, and hearing my name over loud speakers never sounded so good. Still, I ran the race that the day (and the days preceding it) had set before me.
Setbacks suck (pardon my language!), but for us mere mortals who run, the challenges we overcome are often individual. Yes, we run in a competition surrounded by other runners and even an occasional well-wisher, but we overcome our own limitations of time, of fitness, and of emotional roadblocks.
My first marathon is still out there. Yes, I’m disappointed that I did not meet it today, but I’m satisfied to have overcome the physical and emotional challenges that tried to sideline me. 26.2, your time is coming. Setbacks do not force forfeit; they merely change the arena of victory.
Image: 'Running Shoes' http://www.flickr.com/photos/36531501@N00/3414064391