What I Learned From Placing Last at the Spirit Run

It was a grey and cooler morning in Vancouver this past Sunday. I bundled up and wore many layers to keep myself warm while managing a booth at the Vancouver Spirit Run, one-day cross-country and trail running event that took place at Jericho Beach Park and featured runs for all ages. The company I work for was a sponsor for the event and our team was signed up to take part in the 4K corporate relay race - 1K for each individual. No sweat. 

When 9AM rolled around, I noticed a colleague of mine. She's here early, I thought. The relay race wasn't starting until 12:40PM.

"Good morning! How are you this morning? Ready for our 6K run?" She must have been mistaken. I recall signing up for the relay only. I must have skimmed my registration email and completely overlooked the fact that I was part of both the women's 6K and corporate relay run. The nerves began trickling in. Until the start of the race, every word that came out of my mouth were words of doubt.

I am not ready. 
I didn't train. 
This is going to be so hard. 

If a friend of mine uttered those words, I would have reassured them and told them to stop doubting themselves. Try your best and you'll succeed. Why couldn't I have held my head high and accepted the challenge with confidence? Anything is possible if you put your mind to it.  

As we were lining up at the start line, I was feeling a mix of nervousness and excitement. Growing up I was the active and competitive one. I was on every sports team in school and almost made Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations (OFSAA) championship for badminton. (Trying out for the badminton team started off as a joke but soon became a serious game. But we'll keep that story for another time.) Here I was lined up with professional trail runners, some even Olympians. 

Bang. The race began. 

All women and men sprinted forward as fast as they could. I was completely thrown off by their speed and tried to match their pace. Big mistake. Less than 100 meters in and I felt a shooting pain in my stomach. Cramp. 

I slowed down my pace and tried to catch my breath. Everybody was slowly disappearing from my view. I looked behind me. No one. This was awful, I thought and chuckled. How was this possible? A couple of weeks ago I successfully completed a 10K run without any issues. 

Throughout the run, my mind was racing. I soon realized that my only competition in this race was myself. Instead of thinking how much time has gone by and how little distance I've covered, I cheered myself on for getting as far as I have and keeping it up. I was more focused on keeping up with my pace, how far I've come and how much stronger I'm getting. 

Fast forward 35 minutes, and I began seeing familiar faces and the bright blue finish line. At this point, I was no longer worried by the fact that I was last but that I completed the race.  

Here are 4 lessons I learned during my run

1. You are your only competition  

When you are competing in a solo race, your only true competitor is yourself. No one can influence you to run faster, it’s all in the mind. Your biggest fans might be cheering you on to boost your confidence, but you have control over the consistence of your pace and determination to cross the finish line. Whatever race you may be part of, aim to be your best self and never cease to improve. You may reach your goal of finishing first, but there are always ways to better yourself, both physically and mentally.

2. Don't look back 

Throughout the race, I caught myself looking back a few times. Who was I looking for? What if there were a couple people behind me, would that have change my performance? Very unlikely. The past remains in the past and you can only move forward. After catching myself looking back a second time, I uttered the words “In order to reach your goal, you need to focus on moving forward. Be present in the moment and enjoy what lies ahead of you.”

3. The good, the bad, the ugly  

You can train every day, fuel your body with nourishing foods, follow every rule in the book, meditate to a state of calmness before a race and still have a less than satisfactory run. You might lose focus for a split second and lose the consistency of your breath. You can be slowed down by a navigation error on the track or you might simply not have your strongest time. In the end, you need to let go of those minor hiccups and agree that you did your very best. If you didn’t, don’t be so hard on yourself. Make note of areas of improvement and keep trying to be your best self.

4. Get inspired and celebrate  

As the run went on, I noticed my thoughts shifting from a place of lack to full blown cheerfulness. People were passing me by and I found myself fueled by their positive energy and strong performance. It’s quite inspiring to see what people are capable of and how far they can push themselves. With a little practice and self-awareness, you can go further than you ever imagined. When you reach the finish line, congratulate yourself for completing the race, learn from your performance and celebrate everyone's win. It was such a supportive community that no matter your ranking, you were a winner.