You never know what someone else’s journey is, or where it’s taking them. You’ve heard that you should “never judge a man until you’ve walked a mile in his shoes.” Maybe it has no meaning to you because you’ve heard it so many times, but it’s so true.
After I had my first son, running was difficult. Not only was I not getting any sleep and feeling sluggish all the time (to put it mildly!) my body didn’t seem to know what to do anymore. I felt all put together wrong. I was breast-feeding and to even consider running meant a lot of planning and timing everything just right. Sometimes it didn’t seem worth it for a short run, especially when I had to walk so much. Sometimes, I’d take my son out with me in a stroller and that was harder than I could have imagined. I couldn’t understand how some people out there with strollers made it look so easy, just gliding along like it was nothing. I was not a glider. I was a hot mess who looked like I needed a medic.
But at least when I had the stroller, I felt like people passing by could look at me and give me that knowing nod. They understood, on at least some level, why it was hard. But when it was just me alone, I felt I had no excuse. Forget the fact that I was only 5 weeks postpartum. Or even 20 weeks postpartum. What I wanted, more than anything, was a sign on the back of my shirt explaining why I was so slow. It would explain “please excuse me, I just had a baby,” (even when he wasn’t a baby anymore.)
The same thing happened when I had my second son, but it was even harder because I was still trying to catch up from having my first son 2 years earlier. I went for a walk on the beach pushing a stroller and I was sore for days, and that was my turning point. I worked hard, harder than I think I ever have, to get myself back in shape. I worked so I wouldn’t need that sign for my back anymore.
But here’s the thing, and it’s going to sound harsh. No one cares. No one but you. This is YOUR journey, and you have to do what makes YOU happy. No one else is even paying attention. I mean, sure people care about you. They want you to be healthy. But they don’t really need to know why you’re slower this year than you were last year, or why you’re not signing up for as many races. They probably don’t even notice, to be honest. They just want to know you’re okay. They’ve got their own challenges to deal with without concerning themselves with yours.
I’m currently gearing up for my 4th ultramarathon, and getting in back to back runs is an important element to my training so I can experience running on tired legs. So I ran a 6 miler recently the day after a 19 miler and my legs felt like lead. It was great training, but I felt like that postpartum runner again. And I felt it even more so when a super fit runner came blowing past me from the opposite direction without acknowledging me in the slightest. My first thought was that he was an asshole. But then I realized that was only because I felt like the kid who never got picked to be on anyone’s team in gym class. Which, by the way, I WAS THAT KID. And then I thought “I bet HE didn’t run 19 miles yesterday!!” And then, “well, maybe he did. How do I know? And how would he? And WHY does that matter anyway?” Because it really doesn’t. He’s got his mission and I’ve got mine.
I have friends who are overweight and run marathons. I also know some people that look fit enough to fly like the wind and it takes them twice as long to run a race than it would for me. I have friends with asthma and shin spints and injuries who still run. I have friends who have babies who get right out and run without skipping a beat and others who have never had babies and are still considered slow on their best days. I have fast days and slow days and mostly days in-between. All of it is great. All of it is getting it DONE. It doesn’t matter where the finish line is. It’s that you got there, whether you ran, walked, or crawled.
I have clients with lofty aspirations. Some want to run their first marathons. Some want to run a race a month. Some want to beat a certain PR. Goals are good. They help drive us and motivate us to push harder. But we always have to be careful because they can destroy us too, if we don’t get there right away or even at all. I never want to forget it’s about the journey to get somewhere that matters more than the destination itself. There’s another cliché saying for you.
I remind my clients that you can’t compare yourself to anyone else. What makes us great is that we are all different. I could easily compare myself to my friend who runs fast in an effortless fashion, but her legs are twice as long as mine. And there are so many other factors involved too. You don’t know what that girl on the track ate for breakfast or what she did yesterday that could affect her today. You don’t know if that guy had a good day today or a bad one last week. Because we all have “those days.” You don’t know if he has more fast twitch muscles or if she has more slow twitch muscles. You don’t know their struggles, their victories, or what’s going on in their lives either. And even if you do, those things aren’t yours. You do YOU. Make your goals, but make them for YOU. Don’t hold a yardstick up to anyone else. And if you don’t quite get to where you had wanted, give yourself some grace. It’s okay to fall. It makes victory so much sweeter when you get back up.