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First Place: Why Not Being the Best is Ok Too

Under Armour Mountain Series, at Mt. Bachelor right before the vertical climb up the mountain.

“Slow and steady wins the race” might have been my running mantra for a lot of years. I could go far but never fast and I was ok with that. I never wore a watch, never paced myself, barely paid attention to race finish times or remembered the numbers. But a couple of years ago, I started training a bit harder, and as I got faster, those numbers suddenly became more important. I will admit that I have been known to brag about the time I ran a 6:24 time trial, which was worlds away from the 9:48 mile I ran a year earlier around that same track. I’m very proud of that accomplishment and looking back at how much I’ve improved is something that is important to me. But what I’ve found is that I’ve never been able to beat that time, and it’s been a year since I did it in the first place. I’m still faster than I used to be, somewhere in the 7 minute (or more) range, but I am not willing to kill myself to get there anymore.

A few months ago, I was about to start a short run before picking up the kids from school and I was having some issues getting my Garmin to connect. I suddenly felt a little panicked, because if your run isn’t on Strava, it never happened, right? But after a bunch of fiddling instead of just GOING, I thought about how ridiculous it was to even care. It was supposed to be the run that mattered, not the milage. I realized that I had let my purpose in running get away from me. I got so focused on times and being fast that I didn’t appreciate the little things anymore. There are people out there running for different reasons, and mine was always to calm the constant hum of chatter in my head. I’m always so anxious and  worried about things both big and insignificant. Running is my therapy, my chance to literally sweat out the stress, and to work through the things in my head. It’s not about being first place and I know now that when I’m old, it’s not my numbers that I will remember. It will be the company I kept on those long runs, the beautiful trees and city views, the light of the sky in the morning. These things matter so much more. They are the journey to the finish line, not the clock at the end.

When you’ve been running a lot of years and have a few accomplished racing challenges under your belt, people tend to look to you for inspiration. My friends except me to “run long” or to be at the front of the

Crossing the marathon finish line at Hayward Field, Eugene

pack during a track workout. I’m certainly not the best or the fastest, but it would be weird to see me finishing last. As someone who doesn’t need to overthink things any more than I already do, it’s so hard not to get all caught up in how I’ll perform. I attribute a couple of nagging running injuries to going out too fast at some races last year when I was supposed to be training my legs to run far for the Eugene marathon. I wanted to do it ALL and what I really needed to do was decide what ultimately was the most important goal. Was it to be fast or was it to get through 26.2 miles without dying? Well, I gave both the good college try, but my marathon (while it was my best time to date) was humbling because I ran out of gas around mile 20 and I finished 7 minutes slower than I’d hoped for. And then of course I was hard on myself for that and felt like a failure. Forget the fact that I’d just completed my 5th marathon (my first one post-kids, no less!) with my best time ever. Why couldn’t I just enjoy that I finished and that there were people who would not only kill for a 4:07 marathon but for the chance to be able to run one at all? If running becomes all about numbers and not letting people down, it becomes a “job” which is exactly the opposite of that reason that I mentioned that I run in the first place. How can I quiet the noise in my head if running creates that noise?

I know I could push myself to run that 6:24 mile again. There are a lot of things I could do to improve. But it’s just not worth it right now. I’m not saying I won’t give 100% at races because I will always be the one trying to pass that runner ahead of me, even though I might not admit it to anyone but myself. And I will always brag on Facebook if I win first in my age or get a good finish time. I’m not going to lie .. I like to boast because I have come so far since I ran my first marathon in 2006, and I think I work hard for it. But ultimately, what I’ve discovered, is that no one really cares. Unless you are an elite athlete who gets paid to be the best, no one really cares as much as you do about what your results look like. And I’m telling you, that’s a GOOD thing. Yes, we will compare ourselves to others if we are competitive, but for the most part people are just trying to get through their own journeys. It’s not that they don’t love you and it’s not that they won’t notice when you stumble. But honestly, they are going to love you whether you’re first or last, and why does it even matter if they don’t? What are we doing it for? Really, ask yourself the question honestly and think long and hard about the answer. The only one who really cares, or should care, is you. So give yourself a break!! Stop and enjoy the moment once in awhile. Before you know it, it won’t be there anymore and you’ll wonder when you missed it.

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About Nikki Mueller (267 Articles)
I'm a mother of two boys who is a certified group exercise instructor for Baby Bootcamp in SW Portland. I have two young boys and am actively involved in their co-operative preschool. I led a relatively inactive life throughout my 20's until I discovered the world of fitness and running. I ran my first marathon in 2006 and haven't looked back since.

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