Don’t Stop, Just Slow Down

My daughter is a powerhouse of intellect, wry humor, and so much natural athletic ability that it sometimes doesn’t seem fair. In her short lifetime, she has played soccer, volleyball, basketball, and softball. One week into the new school year my daughter asked if she could join the cross-country team. I questioned her repeatedly to make sure she knew what she was in for. “It’s running”, I told her. “It’s all running, all the time. Literally, all you do is run.” She laughed and assured me that she knew what she was getting into.

She recognized that she wouldn’t be the fastest runner on the team but she wanted to use the cross-country season as conditioning for basketball season. She had been woefully out of shape when the season started last year and struggled to keep up late in the games. She wanted to use her time in cross-country to build endurance for basketball. When your middle schooler approaches you with that level of reason attached to a long-term plan it’s difficult to say no. I didn’t.

During the first week of practice the team did a timed run. My daughter said that it was difficult. I encouraged her by saying that as she got stronger, she would be able to run farther without stopping. Her simple reply was, “Mom, I didn’t stop, I just slowed down.”

The words were a genuine response from her and I doubt that she knew how much weight they carried. I had to blink back the tears. I have conversations every day with friends and co-workers about trying to keep up with work and home. We call it different things (keeping your head above water, treading water, the struggle bus, or a thousand other names) but each phrase has the same meaning. We are all trying to keep up with family, work, friends, and a thousand other things and, yet, we push on in a frantic attempt to keep pace with those around us.

We’ve come to believe that our only options are to run full steam ahead or stop. What would happen if we decided to just slow down for a bit rather than stop? What if we said no to the opportunities that present themselves and, ultimately, keep us from reaching the finish line? What if we said, “yes, but next week” instead of “yes, I’ll do it today?” What if we turned down that current opportunity to volunteer with the PTO with a promise to help next time?

I have never been a runner myself but I’ve known runners all of my adult life and I’ve attended my share of races. I love to stand at the starting line of a 5K or a marathon. In large races, the runners sort themselves out by time. The runners who have a legitimate chance of winning the race are all at the front. Everyone else falls to the back according to their anticipated run times.

If only 5-10 people have a shot at winning the race then what’s going on with the 3,000 people behind them? Why are they even there? Everyone else is running a different race. They are running for a personal best. They are running to prove to themselves and the world that they can. They are running for the hell of it. They are running to prove that an illness did not and will not stop them. They aren’t running to win. They are running to finish.

I saw this played out in my daughter’s three-meet long cross-country career. In each race, she blurred into the middle of the pack. At every observation point, I watched her run by with the same blank expression on her face and at a constant pace. She didn’t fight against the course, the elements, or other runners. She cleared out everything else in her mind and for 13 minutes she ran, albeit slowly, without stopping. Her goal was never to win. It was to finish the race and to get a little better each time. And she did.

I sometimes think that my daughter has taught me far more than I will ever teach her and I thank her for this most recent life lesson. If you are struggling to keep up with the person on your left and right have you considered that you might be running different races? Maybe your goal shouldn’t be to win the race but to finish it. Maybe you should be aiming, instead, for a personal best.

Do you feel like you need to catch your breath but you don’t want to stop for fear that you’ll be too discouraged to start again? Why not just slow down? Slow your pace, calm your thoughts, and concentrate on putting one foot in front of the other. You won’t win the race, but you will finish and maybe that’s enough for today.

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