Looking back, I realized through the years, my participation in endurance sports has gotten me through some of the darkest patches of my life. Aside from the obvious physical benefits, endurance sports has taught me some of the most important life skills:
Keeping Life Simple: In a marathon or any other endurance race, everyone shares one thing in common, whether you are an elite professional athlete or someone who just got into the sport: At some point, you are going to hurt. When that happens, the challenge becomes pure and simple: “Do I keep putting my one foot in front of the other?” Nothing else matters. It’s not about the equipment, the conditions, or what other participants are doing/not doing. Everything gets reduced to this singular question: Do I keep going?
When life gets overwhelming, I have learned it is easy to focus on things that I cannot control and feel helpless and victimized. Sports taught me to reduce the battle to a fight that I can control and win: putting one foot in front of another, one step at a time.
Sharing the Journey With Others: When you “compete” at my level, you are not really “competing”. I mean, is there REALLY a difference between who finishes 492 and 493?? The wonderful thing is that everyone that I run/race with don’t really care if you pass them, or they pass you. We are each running our own race, and we each bring our own stories to the start line. All of us are just trying to make it to the finish line. Seriously, when I race I don’t even pay attention to the race clock anymore. I find myself enjoying the experience much more when I seek to help and encourage others, rather than seeing other participants as my “competitors”.
Sometimes pain makes us focus inward and live life selfishly. I have learned through sports rather than being obsessed with crossing the finish line first, the journey is much more satisfying when we turn our eyes outward, to share our lives and encourage others in the race they are running.
Learn From Mistakes: When your focus is in “learning” and “sharing” rather than “winning”, every race, every workout is a valuable experience. In my first triathlon last week, the swim was cancelled due to wind and waves and was replaced by an additional run. I failed to take into account that I sweat A LOT more running than swimming. I forgot to hydrate adequately on the bike, and faded in the second run when dehydration set in. Rather than freaking out, I was able to draw from what I have learned through years of racing and said to myself: “OK, this is gonna hurt. But you know how to get to the finish line.” On one hand, someone who has been racing for 20 years should not have messed up something as basic as hydration, but we all make mistakes. Afterwards I quickly made a mental note to plan how I will take in enough fluids for my next race.
All of us are on our journeys. All of us are running our own races. All of us stumble and fall. Let’s take it upon ourselves not just to run on our own, but help others along the way. So that one day, we can say, in the plural “WE have fought the good fight, and WE have finished the race…”