This January I will celebrated twenty years of racing. Over those twenty years I have run countless races from one mile track runs to the JFK 50. More importantly I have stored up memories of these races. I have run in sub-freezing temperatures, rain, snow and worse yet near 100 degree temperatures. I have run on tracks, roads, and trails. I have raced through my twenties, thirties, and now into my forties. I have raced two ten milers and a marathon while pregnant. And with each one of these races I have tucked away little memories, experiences I can fall back on.
The ones that mean the most to me, the ones that come to mind when I am doubting myself in any area of my life, are the ones in which I pushed myself to the limit. The ones where I left everything I had on the course. It isn’t because these are the ones where I earned an age group win. Heck, in most of the ones where I pushed the hardest, I wasn’t even in the top ten.
These races where I left it all on the course mean the most to me because of the level of elation they brought at the end. Even as I sunk onto the curb, gasping for breath, even as I stiff armed my brother as he tried to hug me so I wouldn’t puke on him, even as the tears rolled down my cheeks I realized I had given it my all.
There is something special about doing that. Maybe it is as simple as the old saying, “it doesn’t matter whether you win or lose, as long as you did your best.”
Personally, I think it is because in life, there are not many opportunities to leave it all out there. As an adult we don’t run around playing chase with our friends. We don’t run through the woods full out because somebody has convinced us that a ghost is right on our heels. We do things in moderation. As adults excess is frowned upon and for most areas of our life that is okay.
Racing is the exception. In a race, it really doesn’t matter whether we win or lose. My all out race would be at best an eight minute mile. In all but the smallest races, that is not even going to earn me a handshake at the end. But when I make a decision to leave everything I have on a course, I am taking a risk. I am going to the extreme. There is a chance, I might run out of steam before I cross that finish line. But it doesn’t matter. I am okay with that because maybe there’s also a chance that I won’t. Maybe, I will push all the way through and cross that finish line gasping for my next breath. Maybe I will PR and maybe I won’t. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that I have left it all out there. There will be no regrets.
When things are tough in life, whether it is in the midst of giving birth, worrying about my son as he proceeds towards his final days before leaving for West Point, dealing with a teacher or a boss who is making my head spin, it is these races I look back on. It is the pain of pushing to the extreme that helps me to hold my head high and push through the situation. Knowing how far I have pushed myself over miles and miles, sometimes for hours and hours, gives me a confidence to know, I can do anything. I can handle pain and discomfort. I can leave it all out there.