Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The Beauty of 2nd Place

The Beauty of #2
            For years, I loathed the number 2.  It meant second place, behind the best, a lost game, being so close and falling short.  It meant a failure to reach that ultimate goal: winning.  Even more so, it meant not being good enough… It meant “I” was not good enough.

But what does winning really mean?  If I do my best and still fall short of number one, whether that’s number 2, 3, or 100, did I still really lose?

For those of you who have known me for awhile, you probably know I was a bit of a nut case back in my teens.  I lost any sense of balance.  To me, if I was anything short of #1, I was a failure.  I even wore a #1 gold necklace around my neck, reminding me of this goal every day.

(I think being a twin made this even harder.  Besides being born 4 minutes ahead of Sandi, I always felt like I was number 2 to her, that she was better in almost everything we did.  Funny thing is, if you ask her, she’d probably say the same thing.)

Needless to say, this provided me with a constant source of stress and depression.  I will say this “unrealistic” goal pushed me to work hard, pushing physical limits, albeit sometimes too much.  Sometimes it made me selfish, picking a workout over time with family and friends.  It could leave me exhausted, anxious, and alone. 

Still, I pride myself in my work ethic, my ability to endure.  But, it took years to reach a healthy state of mind.

Second, that state of mind would discredits everyone else.  There are plenty of others out there who are talented and work their butts off. (On the other hand, in high school and even college, there are a whole lot kids who simply talented without much effort which at least in sport, can still get them pretty far.  Still, I saw them as squandering their potential away, and I was jealous…If I only had their natural abilities!)

Last year, I took some time to study a psychological approach called “reframing”.  Here’s a sight that can give you a little more information on the topic: http://changingminds.org/techniques/general/reframing.htm , but basically, it means taking a problem or unfavorable situation, and switching from a negative perspective to a positive one (aka. changing lenses).

Now, for me, #2 does not mean I lost.  As long as I have done my best, as long as I have reached my “peak potential” both through training and in an event/race/etc., I have “won”.

Competition doesn’t have the same meaning for me anymore.  Actually, when people talk about kids and competing, I grow a bit wary.  The “do anything to win” approach has had some negative side effects, but I won’t go into that all of that here.  All I know is that attitude can surely drive you mad.

For some people, maybe I grew “soft” and lost my competitive drive. 

And true, it can be a tough balance to work as hard as you can for something but also realize that winning isn’t everything.

I still think I’m pretty tough though. After all, I run in the mud and snow, uphill, through creeks, on days where the weather person warns it’s too hot to go outside for long…and I can run 100 miles. 

Now, competition for me is something really to look forward to.  Running against other women still fires me up, but not to the point where I am going to dislike them just because we are going against one another.  It means I have other women out there who are going to push me to do better, dig deeper, find my strength and do my best. “Counting ponytails*” isn’t a negative statement, it’s a testament to all the other women out there pushing themselves to the limit.  It’s a privilege to race against so many strong women.

 (*Yes, I realize many men, especially in the ultra community, have ponytails.  But I know you get what Im saying anyway.)

I still find deep satisfaction in find out just how far I can go, how much my body will let me push.

The other day I had to laugh when looking at my race results for the past two years…I have come in 2nd place, and 3rd, at the majority of my races.  And yes, there were a few times I was bit disappointed…like the time I finished about 5 minutes back and I knew my two extended bathroom trips took just over that (it wasn’t my fault, the bathrooms we really far of the course, and once I couldn’t even find it!), and the time where I went out way to hard and got passed with 2 miles left to go.

Ultimately though, I’m really proud of my 2nd and 3rd place finishes.  For one, I know that I did my best.  I also know that I had way more fun that at these times that I ever did past competitions.  At Bigfoot 50k this past year, I finished second and with a huge smile on my face.  I had truly enjoyed almost step of the 31 miles.

By far, my most proud #2 finish came at Burning River in 2011.  Besides some hip flexor issues that were beyond my control, that has been my best race, both strategically and in effort. After crossing the finish line, the best I could do was stumble a few steps before collapsing on the ground.  I had truly given all I had, and if 2nd place is what everything I had got me, then I’m proud of that #2 spot. 

Now that I think about it, number 2 really isn’t so bad.  It’s taught me a few lessons, like how to be humble and how to learn from my mistakes.  Plus, being a twin, I am one of two.  And even though Sandi could run me into the ground at a race, I really don’t mind finishing behind her.  Actually, I’m usually too proud of her accomplishments to care.

So how did I come about writing this blog?

Well, I’m currently reading “How Winning Works: 8 Essential Leadership Lessons from the Toughest Teams on Earth” by Adventure Racer Robyn Benincasa and I came across the quote “Great leaders reframe what a win looks like.” –Robert Nagle, and which forced me to reflect on my own past, and my thoughts simply flowed from there.  But what a great quote!

While I certainly don’t consider myself a great leader, I have adopted the “reframe what a win looks like” strategy in my running a career (I still need to work on using in my everyday life).  It’s probably why a “DNF” never really crosses my mind (okay, admittedly it does cross my mind when I’m really, really tired, but I never really mean it).  I may not be in first, second, or even top 10, and I may be feel like death (if you’ve run a 100, you know that is the best description is fitting), but I am going to finish.  It’s not like I run ultras because they’re easy!

I run ultras because they are hard.  It is only when things a hard, when you are at your worst, that you can truly find out what your made of.

And what I’m made of can’t be defined by a number.
Happy Adventures!