As runners and even as humans, I believe there is something inside each of us that makes us fearful of trying to conquer a past personal best because we are afraid of not living up to the previous standard we set. It’s part of our human nature to fear. Of course, when you read “personal best”, I know you probably think of PRs and races and records, but I mean personal bests in other aspects of life, too. It’s that whole pseudo-mentality we all have that says somehow age makes us incapable of bettering previous moments in our life. Do you have that, too? In running, I think about races or certain distances or even courses at which I’ve done really well, and something in me is a little bit afraid to go back and try it again because I’m afraid I won’t do as well or better. And who wants to get worse in life, anyway? So we avoid them. We avoid hard situations and places and people.
This post is about facing hard situations head on rather than turning from them. I could list a lot of moments in my life when I either decided not to face something, or didn’t want to because the fear of failure is oftentimes stronger than the will to try it. Babe Ruth said, “Never let the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game."
Let’s take a look at my high school records on the track. I was by no means phenomenal, but for my small town and small school, you could say I was a big fish in a little pond. So, even though a 12 minute 2 mile is probably average for most well-trained high school girls in large cities and schools, to me, it seemed blazing, and the one time I broke 12 minutes (11:56) in 2006, I thought I was flying. After my track career ended in high school and I was no longer training at “that level”, breaking 12 minutes in the 2 mile ever again seemed so farfetched. When I stepped on the oval this summer at a dinky little free community track meet, I had very little confidence I would actually be able to break 12 minutes. I tried it a few summers ago and could barely muster sub 13. I know I’ve put in a lot of work since then, and my fitness has improved drastically, but sub 12? Really? It was one of those decisions to face my fears of failing. I told myself, “So what if I don’t break 12! It.will.be.okay. Stop putting so many expectations and boundaries on yourself, Katie. Have a great time and see what you can do.” So that’s what I did.
I got to the track for the Memphis All-comers meet on a Thursday after work, and was surprised at how cool it was for being dead-of-summer in Memphis. I did my typical warm-up of about 2 miles, with dynamic stretching and form drills. I felt good and calm! Let’s do this! And thennnn I saw some girls warming up around my age that looked super fit, sports bras and spandex and all, and I was like, “grreeaatttt.” Haha. I walked over to my coach and said, “Soooo, umm am I going to come in last in this race? Like, how fast are those girls?” Haha, typical Katie question. His response? “Just worry about Katie. You’re fine. You’re going to do great. Now, I want you to only look at your watch at the 200 meter mark of the first lap. After that, don’t look at it again. Dial in to what feels right, and crank down the last mile. You’re fit. You’re going to do great.” I trusted him. So, as scary as it may seem, I did exactly what he said, and this is the story of what happened:
I don’t even remember my split on that first 200. I remember going out and after the first lap, I was in third place overall, and 1st for the females. “WHAT!? What about those girls with 6 packs? Where are they?” I don’t know where they were but I was in front and I couldn’t believe it. I dialed into what felt comfortable and let loose. The first mile I just kept saying to myself, “Don’t race yet. Get into a groove and then the last mile let’er’rip.” I came in through the first mile and I heard the race director say, “5:52, first female, Go get those guys!” “Wait what?! I just ran a sub 6 minute mile…okay, hold on, please don’t let the wheels fall off. 4 laps to go, here we go!”I would hear my coach yell at me each lap, “Katie, you’re doing great. You look strong.”
Then, with 2 laps to go he said, “You’re going to break 12 minutes. Just crank it down!” From a distance I heard Jon (my husband) say, “GOOO KATIEEEE; THAT’S MY GIRL!” (Which is the greatest thing ever, btw) With a lap to go, I literally just ran as hard as I could. 400 meters! Anyone can run hard for 400 meters. I came through, stopped my watch and looked at it for the first time. 11:37.
I couldn’t believe it. “ARE YOU KIDDING ME?” I was in shock. I just broke an 8 year record of mine by 20 seconds?? It was a great night for sure. Who doesn’t love winning and running fast? However, more so than that, I truly believe I learned more about facing my fears than anything else. What if I decided not to race the 2 mile because I was afraid I could never break 12 minutes again? We now know that’s silly, but at the time, my own boundaries I put upon myself could have held me back. Glad they didn’t.