3 ways a half marathon race taught me self-worth

The morning of the Forest of Dean Spring Trails Half Marathon, my sister sent me this picture:

The internet is full of these cheesy little photos and memes. Some are brilliant (give me a Capt Picard meme any day), some induce eye-rolling and nausea. But this one hit the spot. It summed up everything this run meant to me.

I recently blogged about my battle with medicines, which were hampering my training. As I got slower and slower, and injuries lingered, my confidence waned. I'd even say fear and anxiety seeped in. I loved running, but increasingly there was mental baggage surrounding every run.

So I signed up to a new challenge, my first hilly trail half marathon, knowing this was just as much a mental test as a physical one.

About ten weeks later I crossed the finish line in the Forest of Dean and never felt so happy about a race. I loved every minute of it. At mile eight, my usually least favourite part of the race, I even found myself saying, "I am absolutely loving this!" It was pure joy, every step of the way - even the hilly bits. Overwhelming feelings of pride, love and respect for myself washed over me. How had self-doubt turned into self-worth?

Here's what I learned:

1. Embrace the slow
Running slowly doesn't make you less of a runner. I cannot stress this enough. In fact, it has made me physically and mentally stronger.

Lesson number one was adjusting to a slower pace and accepting it. If I was going to get around this course without injury, I needed to maintain an easy-going speed and learn to love it. No hankering after my old times, no comparing myself to others. This was my race.

Race day, I finished in 2:46 hours. Guess what? The world didn't end. No one laughed at me. Actually, I got a heck of a lot of cheers, high fives and respect from marshals and spectators. Running continuously for almost three hours is hard, and I'm so proud of what I achieved.

Plus, this was a trail race. My pace meant that I could truly take in the beautiful scenery around me. There were several stretches when I was completely alone and the only sound was the wind in the trees. After months of stressing out, I felt relaxed and happy.

An emotional finish

2. Let go of comparisons - gently
If this was my race, it's obvious to say it was no one else's. So making comparisons to other runners, in training or on race day, is pretty pointless and adds to that mental baggage you really don't want.

Letting go of comparisons isn't new advice. But it comes up time and time again because it is so hard to actually do. Don't expect to let go of this overnight. We live, work and share our entire lives with other people. Some of these people we care about. Comparisons are so ingrained in us, we even worry about what complete strangers think.

Lesson number two was accepting this is normal, but not helpful. Just as comparisons chip at you with small, sharp teeth, I took bite-size steps to combat it. Catch yourself in your tracks with a negative thought/feeling and flip it into a positive. Keep doing this and it will get easier.

Wise words from my big sister

3. Be You
Lessons one and two probably make me sound anti-competitive, which may alienate a lot of runners. Competition can be healthy. It can be really fun. Or maybe you run for other reasons.

The point is, you're doing your own thing. Lesson number three: Be yourself.   

If you care about your times and your race position, that's awesome for you - but it's got to come from a position of self-worth rather than brutal comparison with someone who really has their own angst and hard work to overcome.

How do you define winning? My goal was to try something completely new, rise to the mental and physical challenge, feel closer to nature and, most importantly, have fun. I'm stoked I achieved all of these in my best race yet.

Winning is an amazing feeling - but I've learned that, first and foremost, it has to come from within.

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