I had had enough. I just stopped running. Little did I know what I was costing myself with that simple decision. It would be months later before I knew the rest of the story.
I run ultra-marathons — races that are 50, 100 or more miles long. I have never outright won one of these races, but I’ve been competitive — finishing in the top 5 in every “ultra” that I have run. My New Years resolution for 2013 was to win an ultra-marathon. To take home the grand prize.
The next race seemed like a good reason to make that wish come true.
This particular “ultra” was on a Saturday afternoon after an especially busy week of travel. I was stressed out from feeling unprepared and my family was stressed out because I was heading out to drive 5 hours away for a road race after having been gone for the previous five days. And then there was traffic. Which turned my 5 hour trek into a much longer drive. I showed up to the event 5 minutes before the starting whistle.
I carried my bag to race officials who quickly ushered me to the starting line where hundreds of other people already waited. I started the race with the rest of the pack — running in a tight group at the very front of the race. But I quickly settled down and let the rest of the group run ahead of me, moving into 3rd position overall. Still being able to see the runners ahead of me.
And that’s where I found myself running for the next few hours.
Mile after mile, step after step I started talking trash to myself — questioning why I was doing this.
So it was no surprise when I just decided to stop running. I was more than two-thirds finished with the race. And I just didn’t have the will to keep running. So I stopped. Despite help from the race officials and the medical staff, I just decided that I had had enough. Physically, there wasn’t anything wrong with me. But mentally, I was fried.
I didn’t want to be there. I didn’t want to keep running. I was done. It didn’t matter about my resolutions or a dream to finish in first place. I was done. So I grabbed my bag and headed back to my car. And drove home 5 more hours only to explain to my family that I had filed a DNF (“Did Not Finish”).
Fast forward 6 months and I had just finished running the fastest marathon of my life.
My goal was to finish in the top 10 — and I finished in 6th place overall. Out of 1500 runners, only 5 people crossed the finish line faster than me.
As I was walking through the stadium getting some nutrients back in my body and celebrating one of the best runs of my life I ran into “Mark”, one of my “ultra” running buddies. After congratulating each other, I asked him about our previous race — the one where I dropped out. Come to find out, my buddy, “Mark” who was running in 20th place when I dropped out ended up winning the entire event. He took home the grand prize.
For a couple seconds I let that news wash over me.
“What happened,” was my natural reaction. “I just kept running and everyone else ahead of me dropped out,” he remarked. Thoughts of guilt and shame and envy followed. That was a race that I should have won. It was a race that I could have won. But I didn’t win it. I didn’t even finish the race — because I made a decision to quit.
I decided to listen to the thoughts in my head and stopped moving towards the finish line.
So instead of winning a gold medal, I just have the lessons I learned from the memories of a championship that should have been mine.
Here are a few of those lessons:
- Winners don’t give up. They just don’t. They get hurt. They feel pain. They cry. But they keep going.
- There is always a very good reason to give up. That doesn’t mean it’s the right decision to make.
- Your goals look a lot scarier a few months after you make them. That’s not an excuse to shrug them off.
- The difference between winning and losing usually just comes down to who has the most guts — not brains.
- What you think about the most you eventually do. Winners make time to think beyond the stress they are facing right now.
- If you keep moving towards where you want to be, you’ll eventually end up there.
- The most important power in the world is “will power”. If you “will”, it will eventually happen.
- Just because you don’t know the exact next step to take doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take a next step.
- If you don’t believe in yourself, no else’s opinion or support will be enough to motivate you to keep moving.
- Success comes down to the little things — beliefs, courage, and a relentless pursuit of your dreams.
- No amount of intellectual data can persuade you to stay engaged emotionally when you just want to quit
- The most likely winner isn’t always the person who ends up winning. Guts matter.
- Just because you gave up one time isn’t a good excuse for you to keep giving up.
- You’ll feel better when you get to where you want to be. It just hurts until you get there.
- Learning to “tough it out” is a life-long skill worth mastering.
I failed at the most important race in my life because I quit.
I was faster and stronger and more motivated. But I lacked the heart to keep fighting.
And nothing else matters that much if you aren’t willing to tough it out.