a new measure of success

I am a runner. I started running at age twenty-three after a childhood of failed attempts at sports involving throwing, catching, and kicking. I decided one day in my second year of teaching that I needed to get off the couch and get running. It started slowly–walking a lot with little bursts of running. Then, bit by bit, I started running longer. I finished my first marathon almost one year to the day after I started running. I kept training, longer, smarter, harder and running became woven into my identity. Through running and endurance sports, I found my bestest friend, my greatest love, some of my best stories, and memories. I saw incredible places and spaces around the country. I started coaching running-first to adults, then to middle schoolers, then to Varsity athletes with collegiate ambitions. I spent hours and hours working after school in a running store and grew into my running communities. For a while, I got fast-ish. When I found triathlon, I certainly wasn’t content to just sprint…I went from newbie (though a life-long swimmer) to Ironman in two years. It changed my running–I would never be fast-ish again but I gained a discipline level I didn’t even experience through my years of voice study. Ten years, twelve marathons, countless other races, and an amazing Ironman day.

Then the injuries started coming….a sprained ankle here, a stress fracture there, and the mother of all torn calves two autumns ago while coaching in a boot. Three boots in five years. A life-changing grief walk and a new city and state shifted my running. Sure, I ran races here and there but didn’t consistently train. My times got slower and slower (despite one freak accident 13.1 that was just a gift from God!) I felt less and less motivated to run. Was I even still a runner?

Moving to Atlanta a year ago, I was determined to answer yes to that question. I would still be a runner. I signed up for races and ran them-slowly but surely. I invested in a year with a trainer but my fork impeded my process of positive body changes. Slower and slower and heavier and heavier.

Last spring, I set the goal of running a half marathon, my first in a few years. I wrote a grand training plan-a smart one. And when my shins and calves rebelled, I pulled back and then pushed through. I made smart decisions around training recognizing that, especially given my current size, I am more predisposed to impact injury. I finally chose to show up at the Saturday morning group and found I wasn’t alone. I found an awesome running partner who is willing to get up and start running before 5am a few days a week. And I changed my inner monologue. I AM still a runner. I AM slower than before. AND I can do this. I LOVE THIS. I am STRONG.

I finished the race on Saturday. It was a fair course as courses go. Enough hills to keep me honest about a need for more training and enough good scenery to keep me engaged when the crowds and fellow runners thinned out. When my brain fogged, my body kept going. When my body started to rebel, my brain stepped in. Yes, there was walking. Yes, there was a wicked blister that needed attending at mile 8. But crossing that finish line, I felt my old self coming to life. I didn’t need to be fast. I didn’t need to wonder if I’d make the podium. The answer to both of those was no. Yet, the positive mental outcomes from the race-confidence, self-esteem, physical strength, and goal fulfillment–completely outweigh the time on the finish clock.

This makes me think about our children. In the independent school world, we work in fast-paced, high-pressure environments. The bar is high, as it should be. And yet, I wonder if we model for our students that the bar of success can be malleable? I wonder if growing their skills of resilience, new approaches to old ideas, or self-grace is something that is just as valuable as guiding them to be strong mathematicians, readers, writers, and artists? I believe in my deepest of hearts that it is. The measure of success does not have to be the measure set by those who do not know or love us. It can be gauged and re-calibrated as we learn more, stretch ourselves, and increase our life experiences. Perhaps it is even an imperative for our children to see the way that adults can be failures in the eyes of the world-but successes in the scheme of their own history. All of the greatest successes in the world did not magically appear, they are the product of a deeply important process be it academic, emotional, physical, artistic, of whatever realm into which it fits. These processes are the measure of success, no matter how heavy the medal or the prize. Oh that we instill this in our children, I volunteer to step out first.

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