Lessons from a 5km run

It has been months since I last ran at one of the Parkrun events. Partly because of my knee giving me problems at around the 3km mark every time, but honestly, partly also just because sleeping in is nice. Despite being away for a few months, I was able to run it in less than 26 minutes. Needless to say, I was chuffed with myself.

This time seemed different though. Because I had been away for some time, I wasn’t pressuring myself to get through the race in a specific time. So, I was able to absorb a lot of what was going on around me. The entire run seemed to be a metaphor for what I have seen happening around me in the past few months at work and on my journey of personal progress.

When I arrived, I quickly realised that just because I took a break, doesn’t mean anyone else did. You can take your foot off the gas or get paralysed by defeat when you have street-marathon-1149220_1280setbacks but be sure of one thing – everyone else is carrying on, they’re pitching up or they’re entering for the first time. They don’t care if you’re there or not.

Although I put in a good time after being gone for so long, I am very aware that if I had not been in the gym 4 days a week training, the return to Parkrun would have been painful. The longer you take to launch your business, the longer you take to get up after defeat, the longer you take to make important decisions, the more difficult it becomes when you eventually do.

I was always very competitive when the run started. Note that it is a ‘run’, not a race. Everyone is running, nobody is racing. Despite this, I hated it when runners would come past me. These were not only other guys with similar physiques to me. It would be guys, girls, old people, young people, little kids, overweight people. I would try push harder, but if they were fitter than me, they finished ahead of me. This is where I learned there is no template for who can or can’t succeed. Someone might leave school with grades lower than mine and build an empire of a business just as the next guy might seem overweight as I pass him in the store and outrun me on Saturday morning at the Parkrun. Don’t judge books by their covers and don’t measure people with your personal yardstick, it’s not calibrated for them.

Naturally, the fitter people in the run try get up front for the start because there are hundreds of runners and trying to get past everyone can consume a large portion of the race. At the start line, sprinters tend to go up front, walkers tend to hang at the back to stroll as it suits them. Usually as I pass the halfway mark, there is a part of the trail that passes right up against the part where the walkers are still coming up to the halfway point. I noticed for the first time how many of them were smiling as we ran by them. This showed me that many people are happy to watch you succeed. Haters are in the minority. These people loved watching us push ourselves and finish ahead as we ran by.
Amazing. In life the same happens. There seems to be this social belief that if you’re not up front with all the sprinters, you’re losing. If you’re strolling at the back, you must have failed somewhere. Nonsense. Every one of those people are as much a part of that Parkrun as the first 50 to cross the finish line. Imagine a city that only had the likes of Deloitte, Coca-Cola, Microsoft and General Electric offices. No corner cafés, newspaper stands or mom-and-pops stores. That wouldn’t be a city. We are all part of the ecosystem.

Going with the intention of just keeping a steady pace in order to finish, I noticed something else – in the past I used to push really hard for the first half then I would jog or walk depending on how much my lungs burned on the last stretch. Running at a steady pace, I finished in one of my top 3 times. A steady, constant pace will get you a lot further a lot faster than risking a burnout by overdoing it.

Lastly, when I crossed the finish line I quickly realised that nobody cared about how quickly I did it. It’s quite funny actually. To push yourself like that, telling yourself to keep going when your body and mind are saying slow down, walk, stop and you don’t – then you cross a line where not even one person is clapping for you. No pat on the back, just a tag shoved in my hand to log my time. The ‘race’ was against myself. We’ve all heard the saying “the race is long, and in the end it’s only with yourself”. Don’t measure yourself by the success of those that are ahead of you, you don’t know their background or what they did to get there. Don’t judge those that finish behind you, you also don’t know what they went through just to finish. Run your race and work on improving what you need to for yourself, not to keep up with or keep ahead of others.

If you want to enjoy it, make it a journey, not a race, and take note of the beauty life is trying to show you along the way.

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