How I want a race to go and how the race actually goes are two entirely different things. And the latter really doesn’t care about the plans of the former.
Running is a dynamic sport. Nothing about running is static. It’s a smorgasbord of variables, with each distance from the 3K to the ultramarathon supplying a hearty casserole of inconsistencies. The competition is changeable. The elements are changeable. The terrain is changeable. Our training is changeable. How our bodies feel on that particular day… definitely changeable. But that is the nature of racing, and the strongest runners know how to adapt to changing conditions and adjust their strategies to account for the unforeseen. Adapting to the unexpected is what separates racing from just going through the motions.
Yet, despite the sport’s inherent volatility, I still hold the erroneous notion that a race—or even a run for that matter—is supposed to go a certain way and that any deviation from the original plan is somehow disastrous.
“Okay,” I say as I look at my race as I would a set itinerary, “this is supposed to happen at this time. And that is supposed to happen at that time. This is how I will feel. That is how I will respond. This will be the result. Perfect. Let’s do this!”
Don’t get me wrong. I know that races rarely go as planned. And I do prepare myself for a derailment here and there. I try to anticipate problems that may arise and visualize how I will overcome them. However, I view any hiccups as anomalies, blemishes that detract from the main event. Because for some reason I have it cemented in my brain that a good race shouldn’t have all these little disturbances. A good race should go the way it’s supposed to go. The way I want it to go. The way I always hoped and dreamed it would go.
I’m beginning to realize that I view life much in the same way that I view racing. Namely, I know how my life should go. I mean, I spent my entire childhood practicing future decisions by playing LIFE with my siblings. I was able to exercise my options by either forfeiting a turn and going to college or heading straight into the real world, one spin ahead of my opponents. I experienced the pros and cons of becoming an athlete, a singer, a doctor, and a teacher. I noted the expenses of getting married, having children (both pink and blue), investing in a house, and winning a Nobel Peace Prize. And I learned that it’s never worth splurging on art or auto insurance (this last lesson applies only to the actual board game). All that to say, I had very specific plans for my life.
Life must have missed the memo.
I’d prefer to say that my plans fell to the wayside, but the truth is they were usually hurled, belted, knocked, shoved, and otherwise unceremoniously forced there. In some cases, I was immediately grateful for the unexpected detour. In others, pain came first. And while almost always it was for the better, in a few areas, I’m still waiting for it to be. But as life deconstructed my plans one by one, I began to realize that my plans and real life are not after all, one and the same. Because real life isn’t manufactured. Because real life is dynamic. Because real life is unexpected.
C.S. Lewis put it this way, “The great thing, if one can, is to stop regarding all the unpleasant things as interruptions of one’s ‘own’ or ‘real’ life. The trust is of course that what one calls the interruptions are precisely one’s real life.”
Life is the disturbances. Life is the detours. Life is the dents and fissures that blow through Plan A and B and C and D until we’ve got nothing left to steer us but the seat of our pants. The greatest stories are those that take place after our ship is blown off course. That’s when the adventure begins.
Life, like racing, can be hard. It can be joyous. It can hand us victories, and it can hand us defeat. Sometimes we have to speed up and make a move earlier than we planned. Sometimes we have to slow down. Sometimes we will hit our time, but only with great effort. Sometimes we will miss our time altogether. Always we will be surprised by the route.
Life, like racing, doesn’t always go to the swiftest or the most talented, but to the person who can best adapt to changes along the course. Because a good life is not contingent on knowing the waters before us. A good life is contingent on how we handle the sails.
Amy L. Marxkors is the author of The Lola Papers: Marathons, Misadventures, and How I Became a Serious Runner. Her second book, Powered By Hope: The Teri Griege Story, will be released in 2014.