A few months ago I was cajoled into signing up for the RabbisCanRun 10k, along with 25 other rabbis from across the country. Three days ago, I did something I never–ever– thought I would do. I ran 6.2 miles without stopping, for well over an hour. I ended the run as a wet mess, sweating profusely in the oppressive South Florida heat, but I finished the race, right in the middle the pack.
As I proudly sit back and reflect on this personal massive accomplishment, I wanted to reflect on a few lessons I learned from the experience of running this race.
The first lesson was taught to us the day before, I believe by a well-known running coach by the name of Dr. Owen Anderson. He explained to us that during the run, it it easy to let your mind wander, and to constantly be thinking about how many more miles you have left. Simply put, this can leave one in a total state of despondence. But he explained that it is vital to focus only on the mile we are in, and not how many remain ahead. I utilized this technique during the race, not dwelling on the fact that I still had x amount of miles ahead, but rather that I was in the middle of a mile and needed to focus on that. This was the most powerful tool that got me to the finish line. In other areas of life as well, this principle holds true. We realize we have SO MUCH more to learn, and we see there are SO MANY ways we still need to grow. There is so much room for improvement– it seems overwhelming. But by focusing on overcoming the challenges we face RIGHT NOW, and not looking ahead, we can gradually advance on our journey towards continuous growth.
On a related note, as I trained to achieve running 6.2 miles, I did not wake up one morning and just go for 6.2 mile jog. I ran for ten minutes. It was, I would add, ten minutes of sheer misery. The next time, a few days later, I ran 1 mile. After that, I ran 1.25 miles. Then 1.5. Eventually using this method, I achieved my goal. Similarly, in life when we identify goals for ourselves, we need to make a methodical plan to begin reaching that goal through very slow, gradual, realistic and achievable steps.
A second lesson I learned was that our thoughts are exceedingly powerful. We had a presentation with Dr. Rosmarin, the Director of the Spirituality and Mental Health Program at McLean Hospital and an Assistant Professor of Psychology in the Department of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. He explained to us that fear or some anxiety is not inherently bad, as it can alert us to danger, which is a very important human need. The problem, however, is when we start becoming angry at ourselves, and when we start to judge ourselves for being nervous, anxious or scared. It is at that point that anxiety and fear can begin to cripple us. Therefore, in the race, as we would face some moments of doubt, we must remember to not get down on ourselves for feeling the fatigue, and for doubting ourselves.
Similarly, we were told by one of our coaches that science has demonstrated that negative thoughts can literally cause fatigue, and can affect us in physical ways. Therefore, we were advised, when we run in this race, and realize at a certain point that the goal we set was too high– that we simply cannot carry on– we must not dwell on that thought, become more anxious about that thought, and enter into a negative spiral. Rather, we could acknowledge that it is challenging right now, tell ourselves that we know that we can do it, and to keep carrying on. Obviously this lesson carries over in real life as well. When people first experience anxiety– as millions of Americans do– and when they begin to panic, they have a crucial choice to make: Are they going to get mad at themselves for feeling anxious and feeling panicked? If so, the panic will only exacerbate itself. Or, will they acknowledge how they are feeling, and choose not to get angry at themselves, but rather to love and embrace themselves? The choice they make is absolutely vital, and it is their’s alone.
A final very powerful lesson I learned during the race occurred to me about halfway through the run. I looked ahead, and saw a guy 50 yards ahead of me. There was no way I was catching him. I looked behind me, and there was a guy 50 yards behind. He probably wasn’t catching me. Despite being a naturally competitive person, I realized that there was no gain in comparing myself with other runners. I have natural limitations in my running capabilities, and the only thing I need to worry about is doing the best that I possibly can. Not weighing myself against anyone else– but only against myself. Am I working as hard as I can to achieve the highest performance I am capable of? Could I do more?
Similarly in life, it is very, very easy to compare ourselves to others. But that is foolish. They were created with a unique set of talents given directly to them by G-d, and their job in life is to optimize those talents and to reach their personal potential. My mission in life is not the same as their’s, and my skill set is not the same as their’s. All I can do, is be the best me that I can be with the gifts that the Almighty has given me. With this realization, how can I compare myself to others? Doing so would simply be foolish.
I would have never imagined that training for a 10k for 8 weeks would produce so many valuable lessons not just for physical fitness, but for living a deeply connected, meaningful life.
I can’t wait to begin training for the next run, and to learn even more incredible tools for navigating this beautiful thing we call life.