I have started this piece like 15 times and each time it didn’t feel right. I tried to start the piece with quotes by wise people, I tried to formulate it in the form of a well organized argument with a thesis statement, I even tried to write it as a plea to my readers. All of my attempts to convey the thing I really wanted to write about felt empty and forced. Like they were just working their way toward a cliche so played out that it would look out of place on a poster on the wall of a gym.
What I really want to write about, but haven’t been able to so far, is the shifting of my focus from trying to be the best, to trying to be the best version of myself. When I write that, it becomes clear why none of my other approaches felt right. My shift in philosophy is one towards autonomy and yet all the ways I tried to convey this were in the form of pleas or attempts for others to change their perspective on the proverbial grind. Well, it’s not my place to try to change how you find the motivation to get out the door. Maybe trying to be the best works for you. If so, great. More power to you. I just know that it wasn’t working for me. There were too many afternoon runs that dragged by, too many sessions in the weight room that couldn’t be over soon enough, too many long workouts that I just didn’t want to do. And, most importantly, too many races that just weren’t that fun. 1 race, to be exact. One race too many. The 2017 Houston Half Marathon. We went to Houston looking for fast times but the weather wasn’t cooperating and at 10 miles I felt like shit, we were minutes behind the pace we wanted, and I was yo-yoing off the back of a group of guys I felt like I should be running away from. I leaned away from the hurt. I threw myself a little pity party for about half a mile and watched as dudes raced and competed and fought for every second on that Godforsaken day in Houston.
After Houston, I saw a sports psychologist in town and we talked about the races I am most proud of. At each of the races we talked about I didn’t worry about what others were doing, I was solely focused on doing the best that I could on race day. So, for the US Cross Country Championships I shifted my focus away from other competitors and focused solely on putting my best self on the race course and letting it flow. After the that race was one of the first times I finished a race and felt ok with not winning. I felt like I put my best self out there and 7 people beat me. They were better than my best self on that day and I was at peace with that. Too many races have come and gone when I ran great but felt disappointed because of not accomplishing extrinsic measures of success. Ironically, during the race, towards the end, after I had fallen and was all alone and wasn’t going to get caught by the guy behind me nor was I going to catch the guy ahead of me, I was able to take myself deeper into the well than I ever had with competition just by adopting a curiosity about how hard I could go. In the last k, I got curious about my limits, I got competitive with myself, and I absolutely turned myself inside out to not catch anyone. It was beautiful.
I listened to a podcast a while ago where Marc Maron was interviewing Louis C.K. about a webseries that Louis made called Horace and Pete. For the most part, the interview was about the creative process that went into creating the final product. However, there was also a part where Louis C.K. was talking about his motivation to create the show. He talked about it like it was an obsession, it was this thing in his mind that he had to do and had to finish and he didn’t care if anyone saw it. He funded it himself so no one could tell him how to make it and he did it exactly according to this vision he had within his mind. Even when it was done, when he released it, Louis C.K. didn’t advertise it. He didn’t tell anyone it was coming out and then he didn’t even ask anyone to watch it. The only form of advertising he did was to inform people that it existed. I thought that was the coolest shit ever! He did a thing for the sake of doing a thing.
I tell this anecdote because I aspire to the autonomy and independence that Louis C.K. displayed in the making of Horace and Pete. It was an autonomy that I didn’t have in Houston, I was caught up in the extrinsic aspects of the race, feeling bad, a PR slipping away, getting beat by people I considered myself to be better than. And it was an autonomy I was approaching at US Cross where I felt like I raced as hard as I could for the sake of racing as hard as I could. I have a lot of work to do, and I don’t know exactly what the final product will look like. But I do know that the grind will be more enjoyable, afternoon runs will be joyous, strength sessions will be fun (bearable), Lake Mary will return to the sanctuary that it’s been in the past, and races will be so much more fulfilling.
This new approach may sound like I am copping out of competing but, I have a feeling that the accolades will come if I focus on self improvement and the maximization of my natural abilities. And, if they don’t, there are only about 10 people whose opinions of me I really care about, and they won't love me any less if I never run another step.
Off to run, and enjoy every mile.