Each year my family runs a 5K race during our annual beach trip. It’s a fun ritual full of good-natured competition and trash talking. As the big sister of the bunch, I’ve been content over the last several years to cheer on my younger siblings and their spouses as they pass me up on the way to the finish line. Yet last summer during the race as my brother-in-law flew past me, the spark of a challenge popped into my mind, “what if I actually set my sights on winning this family contest next year?”
You see, back in the summer of 2021 I was in a low place. Covid burnout had caught up to me, I was out of shape, and not feeling so great about myself. I’d always loved running. Yet it seemed like each time I got back to it, my return would be cut short by an annoying tweaked calf or a pulled hamstring. As I plodded through the family 5K, hoping not to get hurt, I started imagining what it would be like to run fast again. What I was really asking myself was, what would it take to return to my true self: a fit, happy, confident person who loves challenge?
We all get off track at times. I was reckoning with the fact that I had a journey ahead to get to a place where I could flourish again.
I decided then and there that I would do all I could to win the family 5K in 2022. As much fun as victory would be, I knew the value would be found in the pursuit. I realized the first thing I had to focus on was losing weight. I had gained 40 pounds in several years, much of it put on during the stress of the pandemic. When I got honest with myself, I realized that weight gain, rather than my age, was likely the reason for my nagging injuries.
With the advice and support of my amazing doctor, I got on a plan to lose the weight. At first, progress was very slow. It required me to learn much about healthy eating and to work through my challenges with emotional eating. And the habit of grabbing what was easy rather than what was good for me when I was on the go. I vowed that no matter what, I was going to stick with the plan all the way through until the 5K.
As I dropped weight, I began working with a running coach (the best $60 I’ve ever spent a month.) He gave me virtual workouts and supported my training via text exchanges. Not only was the weight coming off, my run times, heart rate, and endurance were getting better and better. Starting was difficult and then, over time, momentum took over. By race day I had dropped 42 pounds.
As we lined up to start the race, we got in our usual spots from years past. Faster runners up front, ready to win the family race, slower folks a bit back. I was full of energy and knew that it didn’t matter where I lined up. I was ready. While the national anthem played, and the hundreds of other runners got ready to go as well, I reflected on the past year. What a meaningful experience it had been to return to a better version of myself. As humans the journey is the joy. The result a byproduct.
The starting gun went off, and I felt light and fast. Too fast actually. My coach had warned me not to get caught up in the pace of the crowd. I slowed up and stuck to the plan, as I watched my brothers and sister surge ahead. By the second mile I was cruising through the run, passing one sibling after another, snagging the fastest at about the 2.5-mile mark. I crossed the finish line before all of them! And I had dropped a shocking 10 minutes off my time from the previous year! Victory was so sweet! While it arrived when I crossed the finish line, it had been building all year.
What journey are you wanting to take? What better would be meaningful to you?
Know as I write this on the other side of what was so very difficult for me, I can assure you if you pursue what is difficult for you, you will find so much joy, support, love, and satisfaction on the other side.
During the rest of beach week, each of my family members took time to share with me how much they hated losing and how happy they were for me. We laughed a lot and laid down future challenges for each other. I know they’ll be coming for me next year. And, in the process, I hope they have a journey as amazing as the one they inspired me to take.
It’s so good to be back in the mix, and to be back to me.