We were stopped at an intersection with about a mile and a half left on the run when Randy appeared at my side. “I’ve got four questions for you,” he began.
Our conversations tend to start in one place, wander a few different ways, and end somewhere completely different, so I was curious to see where we would go on this day. “Shoot!” I said. As we waited for the light to change, he hit me with the first one. “How many races have you run?” Well, that answer was pretty easy – not a ton, and not a few. “Somewhere between six and ten, I’d say.”
The crosswalk sign switched on as he pitched the second question, without missing a beat. “How do you go about pacing yourself during a race?” This one was also pretty easy. I usually have a target pace and try to keep it steady throughout the whole time. I don’t like starting too fast and feeling miserable during the end of the race, and I just don’t enjoy progression runs as much (runs where each mile is done at a slightly faster pace). When the finish line is in sight, I’ll sprint and leave everything out there on the course, but usually by that point, I’m running on exhilaration (or dreams of the oatmeal that awaits me), rather than energy.
He tossed out the third one as we passed Ben and Jerry’s, with smells of freshly baked waffle cones wafting towards us. “Do you think our pacing in races reflects how we live our lives?”
Woah. This one made me pause, and though I answered him in the moment, I knew it was a question to which I wanted to return.
It seems that I’ve thought of running as a metaphor for life for ages, and I know I’m not alone in thinking this. Training for a marathon last fall only reinforced that perspective and helped me to find so many more connections. But Randy’s last question made me consider another angle: pace.
Among runners, pace is a pretty fundamental concept. Training pace helps you understand who you should run with on long runs, tempo and interval pace are your targets to guide speed work, recovery pace is for easy runs, and race pace is that holy grail: your intended goal for your next race.
How often in life do we consider the pace at which we live our lives? Is it reflective of who we are, and more importantly, who we want to be?
To work toward our goals is fine, and that often helps to shape and guide our growth. A career goal, personal growth, educational attainment – all of these are valuable, and creating an intentional path can help us to better ourselves in these various areas. But how often do we create that path intentionally, and how often do we jump from stepping stone to stepping stone, switching paces haphazardly, unaware of the pace that we keep and the life that we live?
We’re all different, and that’s one of the great truths of life. Because of this, we all run the race at different paces and with a different strategy. Each one presents its own considerations. If we start the race too slowly, will we achieve the goal? Conversely, if we rush towards the goal with reckless abandon, will we have the stamina to continue in our chosen path? And if we keep a steady pace throughout, maintaining an eye on the finish line, do we challenge ourselves enough?
It’s not about finding the one “right” answer, but rather, about finding that answer that is right for us. More importantly, it’s about finding the answer that is right for us at this moment in time. Each moment is presents a new opportunity, new challenges, and new experiences, and once they’ve passed, we can never get them back. Race day may be thirty degrees hotter than the rest of the training season, you may forget your socks, old injuries may flare up, and sometimes, something is just off. The same thing happens in our lives. Ish happens, and when it does, we adapt. We change our pace. We adjust course. We reassess goals. The goal, I think, then becomes to find the pace that allows us to enjoy where we’re at, while both appreciating the past and looking forward with hope. A runner’s GPS watch may not be able to help locate this, but with open eyes and faith in ourselves, it’s within reach for all of us.
(For the record, both Randy and I can count. The fourth question was, “Do you think the pace at which people usually walk is in any way a reflection of who they are?” but we ran out of miles before we got to this one!)