Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Run your own race

In my last post, "The Power of the 'Near Win'," I focused on the motivating power of competition, and especially of the second place finish. In contrast, today's reflection is on the importance - for marathon running, for career, for creative pursuits, for life - of tuning out how anyone else is doing, and running your own race.

There is a 1993 New Yorker cartoon (you can see it, and buy your framed copy here) that has always stuck with me on this point. A man is reading a newspaper and we are looking over his shoulder. We can make out that it is the Obituary section. And though we can't read the text of any of the entries, the headlines all stand out. They read, "Two years younger than you," "Twelve years older than you," "Exactly your age," etc.  Seeing this, I right away thought about it in terms of achievements - how easy it is to read of others' professional, personal, creative, athletic or other accomplishments and to wallow in a sense of envy, inferiority, or - sometimes, if we are CRUSHING IT! in some field of endeavor - to feel smugly gratified by how we are doing in comparison to peers - when the only comparison that matters is between what you are doing and what you're capable of, and how you respond when you run up to your literal or figurative Heartbreak Hill and every fiber of your being and the inner voices begin to say, "Go ahead. Ease up. Walk a bit. No one will know. You'll still finish faster than so many people."

What do you do then?

In one of my opening post on this blog, I wrote about my earlier marathon running efforts, and my repeated failures to achieve a Boston Marathon qualifying time.  I was so fixated on the aggressive and specific pace fast runners were supposed to be able to achieve. And indeed I find, in this round of training again, I am eyeing my new, slower (because I'm older) though still fast qualifying time.

So, it was a counter-intuitive bit of counsel from our coach, Rick Muhr, to forgo any kind of running watch on race day.  The important thing, he counseled, is to listen to your body, to run the smartest and best race you can on race day. Not to chase others, or give in to the anxiety of trying to grab and hold on a pace you have in mind to keep. That is the only way to run your best race. To access that inner calm, strength, and power that is only diffused when our attention is focused on technology strapped to our wrists, or others we are passing or passed by in the midst of a run.

Easier said than done, but that is my aspiration. Only yesterday morning, on my way home from an early training run, I cut through the Arnold Arboretum, and on a trail through the woods suddenly heard the steps of someone running up behind me, catching me, and passing me. Instinctively, even though I was in the wind-down phase of my run, I felt myself winding up, speeding up, and then feeling a bit demoralized as he passed anyway (without even a "Good morning!"). But as I settled back into my own rhythm and pace, by the time I returned home, I had really let him go.

Following the 2013 bombings at the Boston Marathon, while we still follow and cheer the elite runners, a whole new set of runners surged to the forefront of our attentions - those survivors who, running their own race like no other, fought their way back to the finish line.

Here is just one example caught on video:


  1. thanks, rick. am loving experience of training under your guidance.