8am on a Saturday.
I CAN’T STOP SWEATING. The only thing worse than Florida at the cusp of May is running a road race in Florida in May. However, I needed to get my butt in gear and get back to racing. April is National Parkinson’s Awareness Month. In our family, every day is National Parkinson’s Awareness Month. I run for Parkinson’s, for my super athletic father who has been sidelined with it and for people struggling who need to feel lifted up.
But I wasn’t feeling it this morning. It was hot. So hot. 90 degrees in the shade hot. Running in a sports bra hot. Pouring pit stop water on your head hot. (Or artificially colored orange Gatorade if you didn’t bother to check the contents of said cup.) I’ve been injury free thus far but this morning my sciatic nerve decided to punish me for every sin all the way back to the sticker I stole from my friend when I was 7 years old.
On the early morning drive, I decided I would phone it in today. I don’t need to run fast. I don’t have anything to prove. It’s a big race at a big state park so I’ll hide myself towards the back of the pack and jog it in. Upon arriving, I questioned if I had found the correct park. There were 12 people there. I CAN’T HIDE BEHIND TWELVE PEOPLE!
More eventually came, but I quickly realized there’s no place to hide in this race.
It’s OK to hit cruise control from time to time. It’s OK to hang in someone’s draft for a bit. But we can’t stay there. Character is formed and honed in the struggle to keep up with and pass the pack. The race was about to start. I had to decide to either be a leader or a follower.
Is it possible to be both? Can you lead from behind?
At West Point in the early 1990s, there was a cadet named Chris. Stellar athlete. In fact, he was the #1 athlete in his class. A few months before graduation of his senior year he had to take his last physical fitness test. Unlike the rest of us mere mortals, Chris didn’t have to worry about the run portion of the test. He could cruise through without any effort and not only pass but win the event. The cadets lined up for their run and the instructor said, “Go!” About half way through the race, with more than a comfortable lead, Chris noticed a classmate struggling. Perhaps he was unwell. Perhaps he was hurt. Perhaps running was just not his premiere event. Instead of finishing his race as the leader, Chris fell back. He stayed side by side, step by step with his struggling classmate for the duration of the run. They both crossed the finish line together. And they both failed.
Chris was able to retake the test and graduate but the event had a profound effect on this young kid. Being a leader doesn’t mean coming in first. It doesn’t mean being the best, the fastest, the strongest, the wealthiest, the most successful. Sometimes, being a leader is about encouraging others. Motivating those around you. Sometimes it’s about coming along side someone and encouraging them to Run to Win.
I needed someone to come along side me today. I got on the 5k trail and CRAP. It’s all SAND! I can’t run on SAND!
And then insert the Gatorade incident here.
And whats this? ALLIGATORS? WTF is that?!
JESUS TAKE THE WHEEL!
At my lowest point I saw a lady on the sideline with the now iconic red RWB shirt and her PTSD service dog. In a random 5k in a random city in Southwest Florida. She was the reminder I needed to step it up. Get over myself. Stop feeling sorry because I left my size 6 for an 8, because I’ve eaten too many home made blueberry muffins and washed them down with too much Chardonnay. Stop wishing I hustled my business more, called my friends more, worked harder on my relationships, said “I’m sorry” and “I LOVE YOU” more.
My race time was horrific. But after the race, a woman came up for a high five and said, “Great run – because of you I had my best time ever.”
Be a leader – even if from behind. There’s always someone watching – a child, a neighbor, a partner, a colleague, the lady in the RWB shirt.
You can make a difference from any position in the race. Just don’t give up. Run to win.