Tuesday, February 03, 2009

A Few Life Lessons Gleaned..

I would generally characterize myself as 'agnostic'...or if there's a category for someone who's just not sure, that would accurately describe me. I certainly hope there's a greater power out there that is larger than all of us, but I can't necessarily say I've encountered anything in my lifetime that indicates definitively this is the case.

However, if there's a set of principles/guidelines that structure my life and how I operate, I would say (not surprisingly) many of them have been derived from the countless miles I've logged. I've joked with some of my runners that the 'track' is my 'temple' or 'church', but there's more than a little truth to it.

For what it's worth, I thought I'd share a few lessons I've learned.

Don't Give Up.

This one is more than cliche, but it doesn't mean it's not applicable. The most influential coach I worked with told me once he thought I'd be a great marathoner. Despite the fact that I didn't compete at the collegiate level and largely lost my way in high school, his words stayed with me years after I graduated from high school.

In 1998, I rediscovered running and started thinking about the marathon. I trained in earnest for a marathon on my own in 1999 only to suffer a major injury in the form of a complete compression fracture of the left femoral head. This required surgery and the insertion of three pins in my hip.

I wouldn't have these pins removed for another year and a half. My orthopedist had no real advice/direction for me other than maybe I should try something other than running. This wasn't an option that resonated for me as so much of who I am is tied to being a runner.

I could have decided the marathon wasn't for me. I could have let the fear of injury stop me from doing what I love. I could have taken up cycling. But, I knew in my gut what I could do. In 2002, I ran my first marathon. In 2008, I ran my sixth marathon and the fastest marathon of my life.

I'm not suggesting one should wantonly throw caution to the wind, but most people sell themselves short and let fear prevent them from going after what they really want. I'd encourage you not to give up at the first sign of adversity. There is almost ALWAYS a way to get what you want....if you want it bad enough.

Anticipate the Unanticipated

This lesson doesn't just come from unexpected things occurring during runs or races, but also comes from a childhood that was tumultous, unpredictable, and often chaotic. I really don't take anything for granted. I can do ALL the runs I am supposed to do, mentally prepare for race day, and things may still come up that I never could have anticipated.

In 2003, I attempted my first Boston qualifying time and things were going great until about mile 15. I then encountered some serious GI issues that derailed me for several minutes. A few miles later I sprained my ankle. Despite all of this, I gutted it out and qualified.

Ultimately, there is SO much we cannot control and despite our best efforts to plan, things don't always happen according to plan. All we can do is respond as positively as possible to the things we can't control. Because I DON'T expect everything to go according to plan, I usually feel like I am well equipped to respond proactively when things DON'T go exactly the way I would like.

Keep Moving Forward

It's not a question of how fast or how 'slow' you are, it's a question of are you moving FORWARD? As long as you're moving forward (even if it's at a 'glacial' pace), you're on the right track as far as I'm concerned.

I've run through rain, hail, debilitating heat/humidity, colds, depression, anguish, and just about everything in between. Running through the aforementioned hasn't always been fun, but I've always come through it despite how painful and/or challenging it may have been.

These less than ideal running experiences have provided the mental (and physical) fortitude to weather the storms of personal and professional life. In 2006, when I was hurting physically and my business was suffering, I recalled all the tough runs I'd managed to push through and found inspiration to turn things around in 2007. There is something to be said for moving forward despite all obstacles.

Be Open to Change

Virtually everyone I encounter in the wacky world of running wants to run FASTER, FARTHER, and/or FASTER AND FARTHER. This is no revelation. Most people are competitive/driven and runners in my experience are more 'Type A' than most. But, I encounter many who don't understand 'why' doing the SAME training over and over and over again HASN'T enabled them to achieve their goals. More often than not it's because they have plateau'd and need to try something different to get their body to perform at a higher level.

Many folks are resistant to change because it's scary or because there's a chance of failure. But, changing things can open doors to all kinds of possibilities. Using myself as an example, my business was floundering and on the verge of collapse in 2006. What I had been doing over and over again just wasn't working. I had plateau'd.

I had to change (read-evolve) or die....literally. It was with no shortage of fear that I embraced these changes and everything started to turn around in pretty short order. Stagnation can occur on every level. I'd encourage you to be open to the idea that change can take you to the next level in just about any facet of your life...if you're open to it.

Be Opportunistic

In my last marathon, there was a guy in front of me for most of the race (well...there were QUITE A FEW people in front of me, actually). While I was focused on running 'my race', in the latter stages of the race I found myself wondering if I might be able to make a move and pass him.

With 20 miles under my belt, he started to get closer without me exerting any additional effort. I recognized that this was likely a sign that he was fading. While I was working, I felt like I had plenty left in the tank. We approached a hill and I found myself next to him without picking up the pace. I saw this as an opportunity and I passed him going uphill. I never saw him again.

As a small business owner, all of the aforementioned 'lessons' have served me well, but being opportunistic has been perhaps MOST important. In life (and on the run), there are opportunities EVERYWHERE! But, too often people seem to only see the challenges, the obstacles, and the potential pitfalls.

Without being opportunistic and taking risks (smart ones for the most part), there's no way I could have run a Boston qualifying time. There's no way I could have run the fastest marathon of my life in 2008. There's certainly no way I would have attempted to launch my own business. Rather than seeing limitations/obstacles, trying seeing opportunities. Yes, it sounds a bit Tony Robbins-esque, but it has worked for me....for the most part.