Have you ever had a brush with greatness? That one, weightless, gleaming moment where suddenly everything lines up, the momentum seems right, where you hold your breath and watch in slow-motion as events unfold?
The natural desire is for glory as life regains normal speed, as we come to reality and see yes, we have achieved that which we were after. However, it would hardly be realistic to say that this is the norm. Sometimes the closest thing we have to glory is that one gleaming moment, where we waited with baited breath, enveloped in the pure idea of hope laced with desire. Sometimes all we are left with when life regains full speed is another reminder that, yet again, glory is out of hand’s reach.
Welcome to life in the middle of the pack.
In many ways, one could argue that of course I am unique. A 30 year old newlywed on mission to run a ridiculous number of races, triggered by a grandfather who made it to age 103. A woman who didn’t know she had scoliosis till a life changing car accident at 22, an eating disorder survivor, a bipolar disorder diagnosed statistic. In many ways laid out on paper one might argue my “one in a million” genuine nature, yet the truth is in many other respects, I’m just another person. We all have a story to tell. Everyone has facets that make them exemplary. Anyone can take to the internet, to blogs and social media to create a persona, a personal brand. The nature of the beast creates competition whether or not it was intended: of contests, of follower counts and viral-ability.
Like running, there are hundreds upon thousands who participate at a variety of levels. There are only a few elite, a few who always lead the pack, and always a few who are winning by simply beating the sweep. The extremes are large. And then, of course, there those of us who feel glory’s warmth — from the heels of someone else basking in it.
It makes me laugh that for whatever reason at work I have a reputation as “runner girl,” always training for something. I am surrounded by athletes, women in their prime who can out run, out lift, out endure. How is it that they think so highly of me? Am I delusional, or do I really project what feels like a lie? How could I have this reputation if I never, ever win?
When asked my times the reactions are usually good, yet all I can think of is how I did against my peer group. Joining the women’s 30-34 age group was hardly the best time to decide to try to become competitive, against women who have honed their craft their entire lives. It wasn’t till scarcely a year ago I identified truly as a runner. I have yet to figure out “my” distance, am only just now learning to incorporate speed work and better, focused cross training.
When I look outside of my teeny tiny world, I am hardly accomplished. Suddenly all the things that I could say make my personal story and wins pale. I am not the strongest, the fastest, not at all the events with all the constant network connections. In many ways, participating in the online run community can be both inviting and reassuring as it welcomes all kinds, but can also be a reminder of how mediocre one’s best may be versus someone else.
Ah comparison and jealousy, you devils.
Originally, I set out to write about how I took two weeks off and survived, how it wasn’t the end of the world and how it actually helped me refocus myself. However, had I taken my original approach, I would be omitting how I spent at least one of those weeks both resting and moping, eating too many Oreos and generally feeling sorry for myself because I was allowing myself to become jealous. Opportunities and sponsorships that friends and acquaintances have received were making me upset that week – normally I would help celebrate them, be happy for them, but this week I was all negative. Why not me?
Opportunities don’t wait. Part of me will forever wonder what would have happened had I gone to that model casting call at 19. A woman in San Francisco literally ran after me in a crowded area to give me her card and tell me to go the next day. She said some incredibly flattering things about me. I didn’t go. Instead I will always wonder.
The truth is, that week of allowing myself to wear grumpy pants pushed me to think past it. I had tried to say I wouldn’t play the comparison game or be jealous and instead I became the most internally competitive jealous person I could have been, fighting people who didn’t even know I was fighting them.
The truth is I was fighting myself – and that is who I needed to be fighting all along.
Life in the middle of the pack isn’t glamorous. You’re often forgotten, sometimes trampled, but you are never, ever alone. There is always someone to chase and someone to encourage to catch up. Spending so much time in the middle of the pack with my head down, I had forgotten how to look up and how to look ahead.
After training and being ultimately defeated by heat at the Disneyland Half Marathon, I had scraped a PR but in my heart it wasn’t by a great enough margin. I watched friends place, win, achieve after injury, and I allowed myself to become discouraged during my secret marathon training. Ultimately yes, I am happy with my Oakland Marathon performance, but know I am capable of so much more. If this is what I can do with some training, what could I do if I could truly throw my all at it? And what is stopping me from doing so but me?
Now, I embrace the middle of the pack. I want to nip at the heels of the front. I will chase them, but I will be fighting myself ever step of the way, pushing myself to my own greatness, my personal glory, whatever that may be. I know that I may not ever touch a podium, but if I never touch one knowing I did all could, gave all I had, I will be happy the day I finally hang up my shoes.
But with 85 races to go, a grandfather who made it to 103 (and a 97 year old grandmother,) that won’t be for a very long time. Tell the front of the pack to watch out. The middle’s coming for you.