Running toward the right goal
Completing a marathon used to be a goal of mine. The desire to complete this run was so strong that I thought I wouldn’t feel whole until I successfully finished. I would forever be ‘less than’ until that day I propelled my body across the finish line.
I started running when my daughter was in high school. She taught me and was my motivator throughout her high school running career. When she left for college, I thought my reason for running was gone.
Yet, my body seemed to crave it. It somehow had become my outlet, my stress reliever, my mood boost. But I needed a goal. I always need a goal. So I signed up for, trained and ran a couple of half-marathons. I enjoyed training for the races but dreaded the actual race. I discovered I did not like to perform in front of others. I liked to run/jog/walk. Add spectators along the path and the restorative properties of what was ‘me time’ melted away.
After accomplishing the half-marathon, another goal was needed. A full marathon was the natural next step, right? Rather than reexamine where I was and why I was running, I simply picked a longer race. Here is where the marathon became the focus. My new goal. I was going to run a marathon. I tried to brush off the unpleasant feelings that materialized each time I would consider the actual race day. I registered for my first marathon, all the while cringing at the thought of it. But it was my goal and if I set a goal I was surely going to meet it. As excitement built, so did my dread.
As I prepared, I became plagued with injuries. Each injury seemed to take longer than the last to heal. It was when I was forced to cancel the third marathon that I noticed how light I felt when the race was out of the picture.
Yet, my desire to complete 26.2 miles was still pushing me. As silly as it sounds, something inside me said it didn’t count without a medal or witnesses. So, to prove myself wrong I deliberately took the question to social media. I asked if I ran an uninterrupted 26.2 miles did it count as a marathon if no one was watching and I had no proof. I thought I knew what the responses would be. I anxiously waited for the comments of support to pour in. Boy was I surprised! The respondents came back overwhelmingly with a resounding NO, it did not count if no one saw.
To say I was stunned is an understatement. It took some time to unpack all my feelings about this. After some lengthy examination, I shook myself off and stood tall. I realized that the accomplishment of a marathon was not important. It wasn’t why I ran. I didn’t run for others. I started running as a way to stay in touch with someone I loved. The journey was the goal. The journey was the point. And that is when the floodgates opened. I had gotten off track and focused on what society told me was important — competing.
I didn’t need approval from others. None of us do. We only need to live up to our potential in the moments. It is so important to let go of who others think we are supposed to be and embrace who we are. We each have the opportunity to be our best self in the moment at hand. Not for show and not to satisfy someone else. We strive to be our best for ourselves.
We are unique. Each decision is our own. We have the power. Sometimes we give our power to others. I believe this is where the paradox of comparison comes into play. As research professor and author Brene Brown puts it, “The comparison mandate becomes this crushing paradox of ‘fit in and stand out!’ …be just like everyone else, but better.”
This is exactly what I was doing. By allowing my true goal to shift, the value and reward of the experience was altered. When my running became something I did for a time or a medal it lost its luster. It was no longer restorative but draining. To this day I am certain my injuries were related to this shift in purpose. By losing focus I lost stability.
I don’t run anymore. You can often find me happily walking, though. The real goal, I so stunningly missed, was not the race. Rather, my true goal is the genuine human connections we make when we are authentic.
Lesslee Dort, an Alpena native, is a board-certified patient advocate who firmly believes knowledge is power when it comes to being in control of one’s health. She spends her days helping others navigate their healthcare and her free time exploring. Reach Lesslee at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read her here the third Thursday of each month.