Every year, a local business here in Nicaragua hosts an Annual Race Day in our neighboring beach community of Gigante. Mixed with Nicaraguan locals and us hybrid Euro and Ameri/Canadian ex-pats, the event raises money to support the entire day of beach races, beach swims, live music, and supports a local charitable cause.
For the past 3 years, I have shown up to participate.
Year 1: I showed my support by arriving at 10 am and enthusiastically indulging in the local 7-Year Flor de Caña Rum & Ginger refreshments until 2 pm came around. When the races had finished, and all my cheers for the competitors were cheered, it was an early bed for me. Go Team!
Year 2: I became inspired and registered for the 700-meter sprint down the beach.
I don’t go for runs often, but I wanted to do more than knock back cocktails while my fit friends took barefoot to the sand. My goal was to not be the last one across the finish line.
And I wasn’t! I came in 3rd to last out of about 17 people. I was totally stoked to have even crossed the finish line. Finishing that sprint, having only indulged in water all day, I ordered my first celebratory rum. Dancing ensued.
Year 3: THIS year, I vowed to train, to run at least once a week, to stretch properly, and to sign up for a decent race.
While I exercise regularly, running does not factor in. Since last year’s 700-meter sprint, I have only run maybe 3 times. I did not train. I did not stretch. Regardless, I signed up for the 4.5-kilometer loop through the surrounding jungle, beach, and hills – the newest event to Race Day.
My goal this time WAS to finish last. This was what I loudly proclaimed leading up to the day and even announced to the nice lady drawing “#10” on my arms in permanent marker as I registered for the race. I was going to finish last.
I made sure everyone heard; that I told the event organizers and other competitors that I’d be back in time for happy hour, ha ha. The race kicked off at 10 am, so I was sure I had a chance to make it back in time for sunset specials. Ha ha. I joked that I half-expected everyone to have packed up and moved on by the time I panted across the finish line.
From the beginning, I set my expectations on the ground. They were so low, that failing (or losing the “race”) wouldn’t hurt, wouldn’t shame, wouldn’t embarrass me in front of all my regularly jogging friends.
In hindsight, my low expectations were creating such a vast padded space that would allow me to let myself down. I was preparing myself to suck at running, in front of everyone, and to bolster myself for the discouragement I would feel as I finally crossed the finish line.
They were jokes I was throwing left and right near the starting line, as the athletic friends milled about getting ready for their heat. But I was mentally and emotionally gearing myself up so that I wouldn’t feel that child-like humility of being the slow kid.
The last kid. The one that earned a sympathetic clap from other kids’ moms as I finally finished the loop. If I finished.
The self-deprecating jokes were pillows laid down for an ego I expected to fall when I proved to be the slowest runner and let my own self down.
This kind of thinking opposes my usual optimistic “can do” mentality. Many things in life I pursue with abandon: start a company, travel afar, write a book, fall in love.
With all these things, I can’t not try. I go for them, challenges and all, and I eventually get there.
So why wasn’t I cheering myself on this time?
In the end, I ran the 4.5k loop and I didn’t finish last. I wasn’t even 3rd to last. I finished the loop in 29 minutes and 5 seconds, a respectable distance behind the other +35-year-old female who took the prize for finishing First Place in our category.
I was shocked. How did I get that good of a time? Why were other runners still behind me?
And then I thought – imagine if I had TRIED? Not physically. I was definitely trying physically. But if the mindset is everything, what if I had shifted my mindset to thinking, “I bet I can do this in under 40 minutes”?
What if I had created an awesome playlist for the run, and motivated myself to keep going when I felt the burn?
Imagine if I had brought more positive self-talk with me along my run? I might have finished in 25 minutes instead of 29.
We are so often cut short of our own glory by protecting ourselves from assumed failure.
When we don’t try, or when we try with loud claims that we’ll “finish last and see everyone for dinner” – that’s shutting down our self-belief before the horn at the starting line even blows.
Pushing our limits is a scary thing. Putting intentional effort into the things we feel we may fail at is not easy. In fact, often we do fail.
But more often, it is our own mindset that gets in the way. Our “limits” are not always what they seem. And from every failure, we can learn.
I don’t know who coined the phrase, “you either win or you learn”, and I’m not going to bother Googling it, but there’s truth in this.
We win. Or we learn.
And I’m betting, that if we paired our physical efforts with an “I got this” attitude, we still may not finish smoking in hot to earn First Place.
But I’m betting we’ll get farther than we expect.