I had a psychology professor in college who was a Zen buddhist. He taught about meditation and mindfulness long before it was mainstream. Dr. Derek Price started every class by scribbling quotes on the chalkboard. They served no purpose to the lecture other than to provoke thought and while most of them have long since left my memory, one has always stuck with me:
For success, aim low.
Over the years this has taken on so many meanings for me. Back in the day, as a self-righteous college student it came across almost as an insult. As in, “I can only be successful if I shoot for the middle”. Mediocrity did not suit me. However, as time has gone on, I’ve gained some knowledge on this subject. I see no problem with shooting for the middle. Sometimes we strive for such lofty goals that we are doomed for failure before we start. Or we spend far too long striving for something that is not easily attained. It’s easier to set smaller, lower goals to inch your way to the lofty ones. If only I actually believed that statement all the time. As humans it’s in our nature to want to continually do our best and aim high.
Which brings us to yesterday. I ran the Legends 4 miler in Middletown. Yes, another running story. Feel free to walk away now if it’s not your thing, I’m OK with it. I had no intentions of running this race. My friend Kate was working her way back from injury and was looking for a buddy to run with her back when this race was slated for earlier in April and we got walloped with snow. I originally said no because this course notoriously has lots of difficult hills. Meanwhile, I had to cancel a bunch of 5ks I had planned because of schedule changes. I asked Kate if she still wanted company and she said yes so I took a deep breath and signed up. Leading up to the race I had some rough runs. Times weren’t clicking, my legs felt like lead, my feet hurt, nothing was coming together. I had signed on to support Kate so I was planning on running whatever she ran pace-wise (she’s a bit faster than me). I sent her a text and asked her what her time goals were-she didn’t have any. Perfect, I thought, neither do I. (Any runner will tell you they don’t have a time goal-they’re lying-there’s always a time goal. Although I set mine so low that there was no way I wouldn’t be successful.)
The day was unbelievably gorgeous. The temperature was perfect for running. Magically my allergies stayed at bay for the morning. Kate and I both felt good. We agreed to run by feel and not pace or time and just treat it as a fun run together. The first two miles of this course are brutal. Pretty much all uphill with very few breaks. As we started up the first hill and the dread was setting in Kate said “We can do this, we run in Wethersfield, we know hills.” Little did she know I kept that mantra in my head up every other hill.
Once we got through the hills we settled into a comfy pace and chatted the rest of the way. Around the 3 mile mark I noticed that we had passed quite a few people and I actually said “Either lots of people are slowing down or we are speeding up.” Around the 3.5 mile mark there is a glorious downhill that we scooted down, still chatting. At the bottom of the hill there’s a quick turn and a straightaway to the finish. I told Kate this was where we stop talking and start running. I sprinted to the finish and was shocked that I had that much kick left after those hills. We finished in a respectable time with major negative splits.
Kate’s daughter was sick so we bolted pretty much right from the finish shoot. There’s no selfie, no pic with my medal, no wandering the post race party, heck we even forgot to grab our bananas! But honestly, it’s one of the best races I’ve ever run. I felt in control (in a good way) and strong the entire time. I had fun the entire time (even those pesky hills). My body felt great afterwards. I know for a fact that if I had set a goal of trying to run hard, or have a faster time goal I would have obsessed over my watch and psyched myself out. I would have felt like I let myself down by not doing my best. But instead I do still feel like I did my best. Sure I obviously had more in me, but that wasn’t the point. Heading into my spring half marathon I need to remember how I felt yesterday, carry it with me and aim low.