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The Magic of New Beginnings and Finish Lines

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Last Saturday, the day before Mother’s Day, was race day. It was the graduation 5K for the 10 week Women Run Arkansas running and walking clinic, and this was my 3rdyear participating.

My 1st year of the clinic, I participated in the beginner running group. I was just getting back into running after more than 5 years off, and what I found was a supportive community of women trying to jump start their own health and wellness goals. It was a gentle re-entry into an active lifestyle devoid of the pressure to perform or compete, and it served me well.

The next year I went out, I joined the intermediate running group as a way to prepare for half-marathon training. At the same time, I was trying to work out some issues with diet and nutrition. I was really struggling in that area, and it was showing up in my running as stomach and side cramps, feelings of nausea, and lack of energy to sustain my workouts. Again, the community of women, especially my group leaders, was there with guidance and support, even when it got ugly and I was about to toss my cookies!

This year, I participated in the clinic as a co-leader of the beginner running group that I joined my 1stseason out, and it has really caused me to reflect on how far I’ve come since that first season at clinic. My mind is still trying to wrap around how I went from being unable to run 3 miles to completing a half-marathon in 2 short years. I’m pretty sure that during that first season, I declared emphatically that I would never run a half-marathon. Never say never, right?

As co-leader, I learned so much and enjoyed the experience in a brand new way. I so looked forward to meeting up with our group each week, which we affectionately called “Runner-Bees” since we were the beginner runner B group. Getting to know the women, watching them progress, and coming along side them as they did things they thought they would never do was such an uplifting experience.

I made me realize how much I did not appreciate or understand my own “coming up” those first 2 years of clinic. At the time, I couldn’t see my progress because my vision of myself was clouded by faulty expectations. Now that I think about it, that may be the biggest area of growth for me since starting out: setting realistic expectations and being willing to adjust my expectations and goals when things are just not going the way I planned.

I also realized that until now, I haven’t appreciated or understood the importance of finish lines. I think before, I experienced finish lines as The Final Judgment of how I performed in relation to my expectations. They were also the portals into the unknown territory of “Now What?” and “What’s Next?” Clearly, I have been a glutton for punishment in the area of performance and expectations.

I had such a different finish line experience this race. I wasn’t being timed. I wasn’t competing with myself. My sole purpose was to support my group, encourage them, enjoy the race together, and cross the finish line together. And when a runner from our group kicked it into high gear at the finish, I did my best to keep up with her. It was a powerful experience of victory, achievement, and pay off for consistently showing up and putting in the work each week. There was no Final Judgment Syndrome or Expectation to Perform. There was only joy and pride and exhilaration, because finish lines are FUN.

After the race, our group talked a great deal about how much we enjoy the atmosphere of cooperation versus competition that the clinic fosters, and I think I’ve really come to conclude that competition isn’t a good look for me, even when I’m only competing with myself. I think the evidence of that fact is in how much I thrived each season of the clinic, and particularly this year, when I was completely taken out of the competitive part and totally immersed in the cooperative aspect.

I’ve been shedding some old ideas about my goals for running this season, and I think last weekend’s race shook things up even more. As I work on new goals for running, the focus is going to be shifting away from measuring performance and tracking progress and moving toward something along the lines of “how much joy can I experience between now and the finish line”.

The theme of this year’s clinic and race was “The Magic of New Beginnings”, and it really has been a new beginning for me. I won’t be approaching the running season, training, or races with the attitude and mindset that I had in the past. This new beginning is about the joy of the experience and the cooperative spirit of the running community. With that in mind, here’s to many more finish lines!