I’ve run two races since my last post: a 5k and a 10k. They were bad. Really bad. Especially the 10k. It was my slowest time ever for a 10k. I’ve never been fast, typically landing somewhere in the middle when compared with the other runners at most events. But I’m not really competing with them. I just like to see progress. So when I turned in my worst time ever on a 10k yesterday it was discouraging at best. It’s not just about the time, either. I couldn’t even finish without several walking breaks. I probably walked for roughly 5 minutes all together. Not what I hoped for.
I’ve heard (or more accurately read) other people’s stories of feeling frustrated that they could no longer run as fast as they did when they were young. Of course, these were high school athletes who learned that the body eventually starts to wear out. I’ve always considered myself lucky in that way. I started running distance when I was 39 years old. So I didn’t have that gradual drop off that they were talking about. I was able to constantly see improvement even though I am well past my prime. And since I never ran distance when I was in my prime I can’t get discouraged about growing old and slowing down. Of course, all of that was before I injured myself and then got lazy.
On a mostly-unrelated note, I just have to quickly mention the amazing 71 year-old lady that almost beat me. She power-walked the whole thing, and came in two minutes behind me. I told her she was my hero. She suggested that perhaps I should set my sights a bit higher, then thanked me for the compliment. Still, the compliment was sincere. I hope to have that amount of commitment at that point in my life. Whatever the cause, I absolutely love seeing that kind of commitment.
Anyway, back to me. Just a few days before my race I listened to a podcast by Dan Sullivan and Joe Polish entitled The Three Pillars of Confidence. It was intriguing to me because it talked about the ironic fact that many very successful entrepreneurs suffer from low self-esteem. It would seem that success would only build self-esteem. Of course, if that were really true then we wouldn’t see famous athletes, musicians, and actors (among others) getting strung out on drugs and finally taking their own lives. In reality, outward circumstances can never make us truly happy. That has to come from within. But how? How can we measure our lives and really be happy with what we find? How can I be happy about turning in my worst time ever on a 10k? If success won’t even produce happiness, how in the world can failure produce happiness?
This is certainly a more complicated question than I could begin to address in a simple blog post. I have my opinions and beliefs on the subject, but what I learned in this podcast was very enlightening for me. In it’s simplest form, the answer is to measure backwards.
In the podcast, the hosts discussed the concept of the horizon. The horizon is a concept that helps us come to terms with a 3D world, but it doesn’t really exist. We can speed towards it as fast as we like, but we will never actually get there. And we are all generally OK with that idea. The host (I can’t remember which one was speaking) said that the horizon is like an ideal we set for ourselves. We picture success, whatever that means to us, and then we try to make that picture, that ideal, become reality. But it’s impossible. It doesn’t exist. If we are always measuring ourselves against this ideal, we will always see failure. The key is to never measure forward. Never measure against the ideal. Instead, measure backwards. Measure progress. Look at what we have accomplished, not what we are lacking.
What’s my ideal? Simple, it’s exactly what I said at the beginning of this post. I want to see constantly improving times and distances. That’s my idea of progress.
If I measure yesterday’s race against my ideal, I failed. But if I measure backwards, things change a bit. Where am I coming from? What progress have I made, even if it can’t be measured with a stopwatch? In a way, I’m starting over as I try to get back into shape. But the first time around was filled with injuries. I dealt with horrible shinsplints, ankle problems, IT Band problems, knee problems, and even an issue with my hip. Most of these were bad enough to interrupt my training for a period of time. Some of them prevented me from participating in races I had planned to run. This time around I have had none of that (so far). It may not be much, but it’s enough. I’m incredibly grateful that I can run. Even if my times are far from ideal. I love that I have the health and physical ability to even participate. I love that I have the means to pay for the entrance fees and the shoes and other equipment needed. There have been times when I could do neither.
I am nowhere near my ideal. And by definition, at least as defined in the podcast, I will never get there. I’m OK with that. I’ll just keep moving forward, and measuring backwards.