Looking Back: Reflections on Progress
Contributed by Stephanie Davies, a 2017 Ambassador for The San Francisco Marathon.
We hear it all the time, especially from well-meaning coaches and ones who want us to succeed. The words that they share are designed to push us forward, to focus us, to keep us from losing precious seconds. A child of a cross-country coach and former track star, I was told to ‘never look back’ when I ran. So, I didn’t. I never looked back. Over thirty years later, I find myself looking back. What I am finding is priceless.
A few months ago, I had the pleasure and once in a lifetime experience of meeting Meb Keflezighi. I sat in the front row of my local running store, A Runner’s Mind in Burlingame, California, hanging on every word that Meb spoke. What struck me about him is that he is very human and in touch with the rest of us “mortals”. It was what Meb said that made me audibly state, “YES!” for all around me, including Meb, to hear. Meb shared how he was about to win a race and he looked behind him. He kept looking behind him to see where his competition was. He stated, “[They (coaches) say, ‘Never look back’, I disagree, looking back can save you a title.” My cry of delight earned me the nickname, “Feisty” from Meb. I couldn’t be more excited about that name.
I am not in the same league as Meb Keflezighi and I doubt that many of my readers are. I have often stated and have heard stated that the sport of running parallels life. I believe this thought to be true. What we see when we turn around may not be our opponent like Meb is referring to. What we see is how far we have come. There really is no better visual of this than when you are running trails. Up ahead can often be a monstrous hill. You wonder how you will ever make it up. That hill taxes you, makes you breathe heavy, tires you, makes your calves burn, forces your hands to your hips or on top of your thighs. You press into your thighs as if you are forcing them down into the earth, grounding yourself for each step ahead. When you finally crest that hill and you turn around to look back, the view is outstanding. You look at the hill that you just climbed, the obstacle you just overcame, and you celebrate. Albeit your celebration may be small, but the joy you experience is solely yours. A joy in overcoming the tough spot.
Training for a race is no different than climbing that hill on a trail run. We endure the obstacles of our job, family duties and responsibilities, illness, and injury. We wonder how we will ever make it through the superfluous “noise” that often derails our training. We toe the line knowing that we are not as prepared as we would like to be, but we are present and in the moment. We fight with the demons in our head as we work through each mile. Some miles are better than others. Some miles just downright suck. But, we continue on. Our calves ache, our breathing is heavy, we put our hands on our hips, we seldom smile, we grind ourselves into the moment so that we don’t lose focus. We turn that corner and we see the finish line before us and all the hard work, pain, and negativity slides away. Crossing that finish line, we turn around and look back to witness countless others who have just experienced what we did and we are secretly bonded.
Training for a race and running that race is no different than living life. Each day we are faced with an obstacle that we must hurdle. We either clear it with ease or we trip on it, fall over it, land on our face. How we handle getting up determines our success. Grind yourself into the earth, put your hands on your hips, set your jaw, and surround yourself with those who will help and uplift you. Look back when it is all done and see how far you have come. Like those hills after they are behind you, you will realize that you are not the same person, you will be stronger.