Last Saturday I competed in a race, a half marathon up and down a mountain. I love running, and in the seven years since I started, I’ve been proud to see how running has made my body stronger, and how my speed and stamina has improved through regular training.
I started training for this 20 km race in April, and I worked really hard. I ran the same race in 2013, so I knew how difficult the course would be, and I had a goal set for my finish time. I knew I didn’t have a hope of placing among hundreds of faster runners, but for me, the race was about meeting a personal goal and challenge.
Muddy shoes and legs after the race.
I always have to laugh at myself, because as soon as I get among other runners, I start estimating who I’m going to beat, no matter how many times I’ve told myself I’m in the race for the personal challenge! Laughing at my competitive tendencies works better for me than being frustrated by how easily distracted I am.
The course starts out on a logging road in the mountains, before turning off into forest and along rocky mountain trails. It’s beautiful, but very steep, and this year it was really muddy and then foggy as we ascended up the mountain trails. Even though I’d run the race before, I found I had still underestimated how steep the trail was, and I did a lot more walking than I had planned for. I realized as I reached the summit that I wasn’t going to make my goal finish time.
It’s pretty disappointing to be at the top of a mountain and know that you aren’t going to meet the goal you’ve trained for all year. It’s not a fun feeling. My only choice was to just keep going, and continue to do the best I could.
I didn’t want the rest of my run to feel like a letdown, so at this point I needed to focus on adjusting my expectations to fit my current circumstance. As I ran, I reminded myself, You have given everything you could, and Run your own race. In a race, it’s tempting to feel like I’m competing with the other runners around me, and being passed can feel like a rejection. I focused on keeping the pace that felt right for me, counting down the kilometers and hoping to gain a little time as I picked up my pace on the way down.
I crossed the line just two minutes slower than my goal time. At the top of the mountain, I was sure I’d be at least ten minutes over, and knowing I had gained so much time on the way down when I thought I was beyond meeting my goal felt like a victory. It would have been so easy to feel discouraged by those two minutes, instead of victorious, but on that mountain, I won a battle. I fought the feelings of disappointment and discouragement to choose to give my best, even when I knew it wasn’t quite going to be enough. Sounds like a win to me!
Feeling victorious after crossing the finish line. The medal is for completing the race.
I can’t let this story go without applying my experience on the mountain to the journey of watercolour. In painting we can find ourselves in a similar struggle, seeking to develop our painting skills without ever feeling like we’re meeting our goals and expectations. That constant feeling of being behind, slower than the rest of the pack, not getting where we want to be, can discourage us and keep us from ever putting brush to paper.
I love painting, but just like running, I am continually challenging myself to be better, and it’s very easy to forget to look back and see how far I’ve come. Instead of being frustrated at my pace, wanting to be further ahead than I am, I need to spend time refocusing, channeling my thoughts so that I keep the right goals in sight and love the path I’m on. In watercolour, it’s about the journey, not the finish line.