Your Attitude Determines Your Altitude
In 2016 I decided to do a trail half marathon with about a dozen of the women that I run with. I was looking forward to it because I’ve heard so many great things about the race, it was only an hour away from my home, an incredibly beautiful location with the fall colors. I had heard that it was a “net down” meaning where are you begin is higher than where you end and that a lot of people rated it as a fast course. I started out the race making mistakes. I took sports beans from the women I was running with at the start of the race but didn’t have any to continue talking during the race. Usually, these are reserved for when you start hitting the wall so taking them as a pregame was not wise. I used to average about an eight-minute mile and I wanted to aim for that but instead, I tagged along with someone who is running between a 6:30 and a seven-minute mile, and by mile 4 1/2 I was burned out. I had to slow down considerably and at mile seven there was a hill no one told me about that seemed overwhelming at the time. I felt discouraged and disappointed in myself but at the top of that hill, there was a fantastic aid station with happy, energetic, cheering people.
What would’ve been the smartest move is for me to stop and actually eat something but my mood had turned foul so I just kept walking. I remember hitting between mile 10 and 11. No longer feeling able to run I started walking. Not just walking to give myself a break. Walking to have a pity party because quite honestly I was pissed off at the entire day. A man ran past me and said: “isn’t this the most beautiful race?“. Interestingly enough, it was, but Instead of taking in the surrounding beauty, I decided to bask in my anger. I finished the race embarrassed at my time and all the mistakes I had made along the way. Knowing that my friends and teammates would see how slowly I ended up completing it just added insult to injury. One thing I knew on the drive home was that at some point I would run this again and it would be my redemption race. This weekend that’s what I got to do.
My longest run in the last year has been about 7 miles. Maybe a 10 miler in there somewhere. Also, the night before the race, my family went out for Mexican food and a margarita, and for whatever reason that combination made me throw up. So I wasn’t feeling prepared at all. To say I was undertrained would be an understatement and I was certainly not feeling my best. As a side note, we were starting at 17°, the coldest the race director had seen in the last 10 years. It was painfully cold with frozen fingers and toes and dreading going to the bathroom kind of cold. This time my mindset was different. I planned on keeping my pace right at about a 10-minute mile because I wanted to finish happy and strong and enjoy myself. A 10-minute mile for me means that it’s not difficult for me to have a conversation, so I chatted with people along the way. There’s something fantastic about getting to know another human being while you’re trudging through something that’s physically challenging. What was astounding was not only how much I was enjoying myself but that the dreaded hill at mile seven didn’t seem nearly as long or hard. Honestly, I just walked up to it and wondered why in my mind it seemed so horrific. I stopped at every aid station to really thank people like I usually do and to make sure that I was nibbling on pretzels during the day to calm my very uneasy stomach.
During this race, after the “big hill”, there are two tunnels that we run through. These were very poignant to me on this go around. I could see the light at the end of the tunnel, however, I could not see the ground. It felt as though I catapulted myself into unknown territory and realized very quickly that not only the dark was oppressive but so was the absolute cold. Then I noticed that once I let my eyes adjust, I took a breath and relaxed, there were small lanterns along the way. They didn’t give off a lot of light but it felt good to know that they were there. Small beacons of light on this dark journey to help guide us.
I stopped to take a picture because I felt that’s a lot of how life is as we’re going through it. We catapult ourselves into something new. It’s overwhelming, sometimes scary. We don’t know our footing, but if we pause — sometimes for just a moment — we can find those smaller beacons of light that are just enough to guide us through.
At the end of the tunnel when you burst out of the cold and dark and into the sunshine and warmth there’s an amazing feeling of accomplishment. The first time I ran this race I just wanted to get through the tunnels. I just wanted to race to be over. But this time I felt more connected with them as a journey we all take. A journey that can change dramatically based on our attitude.
And then it happened. In what seemed like little effort and no time at all, I was there. Mile 10. The place where previously I had a massive self-pity meltdown. As I ran I looked at my surroundings and even took my phone out for a couple of pictures. It was crazy to think back to just a couple of years ago when this very same place was one of the hardest moments in a race that I had ever experienced. At this moment, I felt lit up from within. I asked the kind gentleman at the aid station at mile 11 to take my picture because I felt I had the time and I wasn’t feeling any stress. I was enjoying every second of my day.
That’s a crazy thing about attitude. It can transform the exact same place with the same people on the very same road into something completely different. Sure, there are moments that are more difficult than others. There are times when things feel shitty and aren’t what we expect, but it was up to me a couple of years ago to allow myself to bask in that shit storm or remain positive through it and it shames me to say — on that day — I made a pie out of it and ate it.
This time, I finished the race happy and strong. My stomach remained upset, but I managed. There was food and laughter, friendly faces, and a porta-potty at the end. I got my medal and waited for the race results to be posted. I finished exactly like I wanted to. A solid 10-minute mile, seventh in my age division, and number 80 out of about 175 people. Was it a fast time for me? Absolutely not. Did I care? Absolutely not. I set goals for myself — to finish the race and feel happy and I did both.
Zig Ziglar said, “Your attitude, not your aptitude, will determine your altitude.” True words that I got to feel.