Only Time Will Tell

A friend of mind recently shared what a college professor said at her graduation: “Finishing college is like running a marathon – it’s not when you finish, but that you finish.”

Like always, upon hearing the word “marathon” my ears perked up like a dog that hears the word “out?” I thought about what she said, and considered the marathons I’ve run and the talks I’ve had with other runners about marathons.  I think we’d all agree that sometimes, a marathon is about reaching certain time goals.  We begin with hopes of breaking 4:30, 4:00, 3:40… or whatever goal we have for ourselves. And, pretty much the entire focus of that run is on our ideal time.  If we reach this goal, things are great, and the marathon is deemed a success.

But the fact is, not every marathon is destined to be a PR run. In fact, many times marathons turn out to be PW’s (Personal Worsts). Perhaps things fall apart early on in the race, or maybe it’s the last 6-8 miles that kill us. Regardless, we become well aware that we’ll be out there for longer than we hoped.

For me, when a race falls apart, I am initially disappointed.  I should know, it’s happened many times.  Some extenuating circumstance usually in the form of an injury or mother nature will infringe upon my well laid plans of breaking my own records. At first, I face this setback running next to my new friend Denial. I tell my friend and myself that I can and will heal whatever ails me, and that I’ll soon be back on pace. But then Denial leaves me in his dust, and passes the baton to his buddy Reality Check.  This charmer informs me it’s no longer about speed records; things are not going to get better. At this point, I begin to accept this new fate, and slowly shift gears. I consider that I may need to focus on “just making it to that freaking finish line” without completely falling apart.

Yet for a few miles, I remain disappointed, thinking I could’ve somehow prevented the demise of that particular run.  I proceed to feel like a failure for not only that run, but also all of the other things in my life that haven’t gone according to plan.  The book that remains unwritten, the closets that are unorganized, the friends I’ve lost touch with… the list goes on and on.

Then Reality Check decides to walk, and soon Get A Grip is breathing heavily down my neck.  He begs, “Would you just relax already?  So you’re not going to PR- you’re running a marathon, isn’t that enough? Stop with the pressure, and just focus on how hard you worked to get out here in the first place.  Not everyone runs marathons, you know.”

I spend the last miles of that run equally trying to ditch and believe Get A Grip.  His logic actually starts to make sense just in time for my final running partner, Light At the End of the Tunnel.  This friend accompanies me to the last one hundred yards of the marathon, where he high fives me and says, “I told you you’d make it.”  Then I am alone, proudly running through the spectators that line the last stretch.  I cross the finish line to receive my medal and remember that wow… finishing a marathon actually is the cool part.

How long it takes to finish a marathon, or reach any goal doesn’t have to matter as much as we tell ourselves it does. It’s the fact that we carry on, always with the end result in mind. Yes, we may hit detours that set us back days, weeks, or even years, and maybe we have to readjust and redefine our goals.  And yes, it might be a bummer to finish something in not exactly the way we had hoped.  But maybe we all need to listen to my good friend Get a Grip, and remember to not be so hard on ourselves and press on, because Light at the End of the Tunnel is always out there waiting for us, maybe around the next bend.

Keep at it friends, all the way to the finish.

Copyright 2010

By Abbey Algiers