Recovering from taking yourself so seriously
This weekend, at a road race in bustling, blustery downtown Chicago, among 35,000 people, I had an epiphany.
I had just finished competing against the most dense elite field I’ve ever run against. I had run a few seconds per mile slower than I had wanted, and that pace had hurt worse than I had expected. Even with my best effort left out on the course, I couldn’t run the race of my life like I did two weeks ago. Yet, seconds after crossing the finish line, I was beaming with joy, smiling for the cameras with my arm around my teammate, and completely immersed in the energy of the scene. When I look back on this weekend, I’m not going to remember the extra seconds tacked onto my finishing time. I’m going to remember flying through the electric streets of Chicago next to my teammate, being star-struck in the elite tent surrounded by Olympians, and chomping on gooey cinnamon rolls after the race.
My final result didn’t match up with the one I had in my head prior to stepping on the starting line, but I was keenly aware that the disparity didn’t upset or throw me into a spiral of self-doubt like so many other imperfect results have done in the past, and I wondered why.
My epiphany occurred during a cool down with my friend Niko as we were jogging along the river path, recapping our individual races. Niko asked me how my training had been coming along. I told him that although I’ve been running a lot of mileage, doing challenging workouts and racing frequently to train my mentality, I’ve been approaching my training a lot less seriously than I ever have in the 10 years I’ve been running competitively. I explained that, whereas in the past, I treated workouts and races like trials in which I had to prove myself, I now view them as opportunities to work through tough situations and as integral parts of a larger process. Putting less stock in my workout days makes them less threatening, and I can be open to and even embrace them when they don’t go as ideally planned.
In short, I’m taking myself a lot less seriously.
Being in a stacked elite field helped me put it in perspective. Nobody was looking at me, they were watching the former Olympians out to set Masters records. I felt incredibly humbled, small, grateful to be there, and comically out of place. This newfound freedom is why I shamelessly ran around the elite tent hugging stars I’ve grown up admiring, why I laughed and joked with other runners during my warm-up, and why I was able to come back after a slow fourth mile and push myself into a vulnerable position of hurt the entire last mile – because when you realize the final result is not going to make or break you or determine your worth, you become empowered to take risks and do whatever you are doing with freedom, not strings attached. You are able to take deep breaths, notice the little things, be mentally and emotionally present, and enjoy the process so much more.
If the results of your training sessions are determining your mood or the quality of your day, examine your purpose. Ask yourself, why do I train?
Most of us will answer that question with reasons like happiness, health, self-betterment, or a curiosity to see what potential we hold inside us. Don’t get me wrong – I have big running goals that require daily sacrifice, careful planning, and a lot of belief and bravery – and you likely have performance or weight loss goals that are equally as big and demanding, but the foundation of these goals, the big “why,” is usually something bigger, something that isn’t compromised by one less-than-ideal workout or performance.
Your performance, physical appearance, or the quality of your training session is NOT your identity — and if it currently is, then I invite you to join me in recovering from taking myself so seriously.