I had my first 5k of the season last Saturday. Based on the considerable loss of stomach contents as I battled a stomach bug earlier in the week, I wasn’t sure what to expect.

 

I started running regularly about a year ago. Back then, my main goal was simply to finish the race and not get beat by too many girls. After a couple of races, I found that I was becoming more competitive and started taking it a little more seriously. I also found out that there are some very fast girl runners and I can’t even hope to keep up with them. I finished last year with second and third place finishes in my age group. Emboldened by my improving race times, I went into Saturday’s race with two objectives:

1. Finish in under 23 minutes

2. Win 1st place in my age group

 

Although my personal best time was 23:20, I thought beating 23 minutes was a reasonable objective. The feasibility of reaching the second goal was a little more difficult to predict. You never know who will show up in your age group, so you could run your personal best and not even place. Alternatively, you could have a horrible outing but still go home with a medal if the others in your age group are competitively challenged.

 

I had a good day. I ran a new personal best at 22:40 and won my age group. As a side note, my time of 22:40 is quite respectable but don’t be too impressed – the overall winners (typically high school cross country runners) are usually below 18 minutes. By the time I cross the finish line they are already on their way to their second race of the day.

 

So… I ran a personal best and I won my group. Now what?

 

I guess I could always shoot for a faster time, but I realize that I’m not getting any younger and eventually those times will start heading the other direction. I could set a new goal of getting an overall win, but I’m not insane. I am very much a goal-oriented person, so just running for the sake of running is not an option. So what will my new goal be?

 

I realized my running is falling into the same pattern as my professional career that I wrote about in my book. My race times are taking the place of my salary and my finishing position is taking the place of my job title. It’s amazing how pervasive this addiction to success can be. While there’s nothing wrong with aspirations, when I have a goal I feel like I HAVE to accomplish it and I’m not really good with losing.

 

This got me to thinking… while I did win my age group and run below my target time, I didn’t even come close to the overall winner. In that respect, I decisively lost the race. Out there, somewhere, will always be a faster runner, a higher paid manager, a greener lawn, a cleaner house, a smarter student, or a more humble servant. Our primary goal – the one that will bring the most satisfaction – is not be the first person to finish the race. Rather, we should continually assess our lives to make sure that we “run with endurance the race set before us.” I firmly believe that if we are running someone else’s race not even victory will bring fulfillment.

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