Last year, I did the Couch-to-5K program and ran my first 5K. My time was almost laughable—35 minutes and 12 seconds, with a pace of 11.20 per mile. In other words, women pushing baby strollers were passing me. But, hey, it was my first race. I was determined to keep running and planned to do the same race in 2017. I couldn’t wait to see how much faster I’d be!
That race was Saturday, June 10. And I failed.
This particular 5K is a grand event that raises money in the name of 1st Lt. Derek Hines, who was tragically killed in the line of duty in Afghanistan at age 25, for a Soldiers Assistance Fund. By now, this Flag Day race draws an impressive crowd of runners each year to Newburyport, MA. There is a moving ceremony with military personnel speaking about their personal experiences, and this year there was even a Black Hawk helicopter doing flyovers, followed by music and a barbecue.
When I ran the race last year, I was terrified. I had never done anything like a 5K, never mind one with such fanfare and so many people cheering from the sidelines. This time I felt more relaxed, having put many miles on my sneakers in the intervening year. I already knew the course and had my strategy in place: no racing at the start, baby steps on the hill, try to do the last mile faster. Etc.
So what happened? I ran the course TWO MINUTES SLOWER. Sure, it was hotter than last year, and every runner likes to use heat as an excuse for a bad race day. And yeah, I’d ordered an XL in the t-shirt and it was like running in a dang dress.
But I was disappointed in myself, enough to do that thing I always poke fun at “real” athletes for doing: running a play-by-play description of the race aloud for my husband and friends, lamenting where I could have gone faster and made up time. Woulda, shoulda, coulda: that sort of pointless hit-your-head-on-the-wall defeatist dialogue.
My race day also happened to be my daughter’s birthday, and for her birthday, she and her brother were celebrating by running a 30K race. Yeah, you read that right: 30K. On trails, and up hills in Oregon, where she lives. (Oh, and she’s training for a 100K. In Colorado.)
When I told my bionic girl about feeling like a failure, my daughter said, “I don’t know, Mom. I look at those runners who come in way after I do, and you know what? I admire them. They’re out there running for a lot longer than most people, and working harder to achieve the same goal. You should just be proud that you did it.”
Okay, that pep talk momentarily made me feel worse. Old, lame, obsolete, you name it: suddenly I saw myself as others must: as a red-faced, chubby, over-the-hill dame who can barely make it up a hill.
The thing is, I fail at a lot of things. My garden needs weeding, my laundry needs doing, my crow position in yoga is more of a squat-and-topple, and the novel I’m writing refuses to behave. In fact, I fail a lot more than I succeed.
On the other hand, after I’d fumed some more, after I’d had time to consider my daughter’s wise words, I suddenly had this thought: it’s better to be failing at things you’re trying than to just be lounging on the coach and watching other people do cool things.
So here’s what I’m telling myself: I have a rich and busy inner life, and I can vacuum later. I’m writing a novel and learning as I go. Yoga is all about being in the body you’re in. And I just ran a 5K in 90-degree heat for a great cause. So what if I was slower than last year? I was in there, giving it my all, pumping my arms and legs up that hill, wiping sweat from my brow, and making it to the finish line.
If you’re not failing, you’re not risking anything. And is that really living?
Or, as Winston Churchill said, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal; it is the courage to continue that counts.”