Everyone knows the hilarious quote from the cinematic classic, Talladega Nights: “If you ain’t first, you’re last.”
Well, I sure as heck was never first when it came to most things. I’m not shy in sharing the fact that I was never an A student. I was lucky to get a B, if we’re being honest. My motto was, “C’s get degrees!” and by golly, I lived by that code.
I’ve just always kind of fallen short, and I’m really okay with that. I enjoy the journey. I don’t need to be top of the class, first place, or head of department to feel accomplished. I need ALL the feels. I need community and people and conversations and friendships and to feel like it all matters and was worth it in the end. I needed to know that I did my best, gave it my all, and that was enough. So the fact that I have come in dead last in both 10K’s that I raced isn’t shocking. In fact, my motto in running is “slow and steady wins the race.” I AM the tortoise. (And apparently I have life motto’s now.)
Let’s rewind back to November 19, 2016.
I had trained and trained and was running my very first 10K (which, in case you were wondering, is 6.2 miles.) I know…… it’s SO far and kind of amazing. Especially seeing as how I was always a terrible runner (still am), and this dates back to the beginning of time.
Let’s take a detour from this story and a trip down memory lane, shall we?
When I was a little Stephanie I would go running with my best friend Niecy around the neighborhood. Girlfriend has the longest legs you ever did see and flew through the neighborhood like a beautiful gazelle as I chuffed along in her wake like an aging dachshund on oxygen. I know what you’re thinking….. “Stephanie, you’re being too hard on yourself!” People always tell me this when I talk of how bad I am at running. However, I’m being quite truthful.
Let me give you a perfect example: In 7th grade I played on the Berry Middle School Basketball team (Go Bears!) One of the mandatory things they made us do was run cross country and I kid you not, I came in LAST place in that first race of the season as well. I hated it so much, I even quit basketball because of it. Like seriously, the bus was almost pulling away, as I crossed the finish line. I was so embarrassed and blocked the memory out completely….
Until it all came flooding back at the 10K of 2016. Once again, I found myself dead last. My sweet sister-in-law hung back to keep pace with me because she is the kindest person ever and also my running coach. She’s the BEST. If it weren’t for Amber, I wouldn’t have completed any of this. She believes wholeheartedly in me and my ability to accomplish what I set out to do. She never even questions if I’ll be able to make my goals or not. How can you fail with a coach like that?! She runs like the speed of light and makes it look so easy! Her ponytail swings back and forth as she bounces with ease down the sidewalk. It’s a joy to watch her run. However, in order to encourage me and give me the strength I needed, she graciously hung back with me for the first 10K, basically running in place as I chuffed along (Remember the aging dachshund metaphor. Still true 20 years later). I was taking so excruciatingly long that the truck that goes along picking up cones at the end of the race was keeping pace with us as well.
I was mortified. Sweet Amber asked them to hang back a bit because we were coughing from all the exhaust fumes. (This is where my meltdown began. Because of the dang truck!!! It completely threw me off my game. Forget the fact I was a complete basket case. We’ll put sole blame on the truck for this one!)
When I finally made it over the finish line to my incredible family cheering me and supporting me, I didn’t even enjoy it. I had a nice little pity party where I whined and cried about how humiliated I was that the truck was pacing me and everyone knew I was last! Woe is me. (Can you hear the orchestra playing in the background of my terrible life?! Insert eye roll HERE please.)
Excuse me while I barf at that recollection. I robbed myself of the joy of finishing a SIX POINT TWO MILE RUN. That is flipping FAR! And I’m not a runner!! I’d been training 5 months and I pulled that off. 16-17 minute miles or not, I did it and I was being so melodramatic and theatrical that I didn’t even celebrate.
Chip always tells me, “don’t change your goal in the middle of the race.”
**pause for effect**
I’m going to give us all a minute to just mull that one over. Oh, Chip. You wise devil, you. Feel free to quote that one, but don’t forget to give that hunk of a man credit! (By the way? That works in most life situations and I remind myself of this constantly). My goal was to finish without walking. Nowhere in my training had I even thought about where I’d place. It didn’t matter. The goal was to complete the race without walking. And I did that. And I should have been elated about it, like my family was. They saw how hard I’d worked and trained and prepared for that moment. But hindsight is 20/20 and we learn from our failures, right? The failure wasn’t finishing in last place. The failure was my pathetic attitude.
I had a chance to redeem the story this past Saturday as I ran my second 10K.
I vowed to myself that if I was going to be last again that I would not throw a toddler-size hissy-fit at the finish line. I even told Chip on the way to the race, “If I’m dead last again, I will find the humor and blog about it.”
So here we are.
Y’all. It’s ALL ABOUT ATTITUDE!!!!! The first 10K was all about me and how tragically humiliated I was, and this one was all about enjoying the journey. I decided I would smile and encourage every single runner that passed by me as they were completely stomping my time. I wanted to talk to the volunteers giving out water and cheering. I wanted to thank the policemen and women working the road closures so I could have the opportunity to complete a goal I’d set for myself.
And you know what? It was the FUNNEST race yet. (Please do note that it was so humid I #canteven. Amber thinks it was hotter and more humid that the 5K we ran on the FOURTH OF JULY. IN TEXAS. Y’all. What the actual heck.) I did all the things I set out to do, though. I smiled and encouraged all the runners:
To the insanely amazing men who passed back by me toward the finish line as I was approaching the mile TWO marker, I shouted, “Holy crap, you guys are AMAZING!!! Getchoo some!!!”
To the first place woman who passed me, “Get it, sister! You’re awesome!”
To the teenage girls volunteering at mile 3 (who were sitting on the ground behind the cones playing on their cell phones.. oh the humanity!!!), “the tortoise is approaching!! I believe I’m it, but you may want to wait for the official verification!!” Because I needed to quote Barney Fife at least once, thank-you-very-much. #andygriffithforevuh
Not to mention the countless thumbs-up, high fives, waves, and touchdown arms to all 64 others in the race.
As I was circling back around on mile 4, I could tell all my new volunteer and police friends were excited to see me…
The policeman at the intersection looked at me as I shouted, “Last, but not least!!!!” and with the biggest smile on his face said, “Yeah, but you’re the only one smiling and talking!! Great job!!”
The girls at mile 5 shouted, “You’re a strong woman!! We love you!!” after I choked out (because I had almost no ability to converse at this point), “I’ve pushed two huge heads out of my body. I can do this!!” (I’m not lying. BOTH my boys’ heads were 98% at birth. I know, I’m a beast.)
Then my amazing friend, Niki, who hung back and waited for me on the last mile so I wouldn’t cross the finish line alone (okay that one brings tears to my eyes on so many levels).
And to top it all off, the Grand Finale of seeing the finish line, and ALL MY PEOPLE screaming and cheering and clapping and taking photos and the littlest voice of them all… my firstborn, my mini-me, the person who understands my heart more than anyone on this Earth because I swear we are the same person…. shouting, “GO MOMMY!!!!!” and fist pumping the air.
Oh em gee. My heart. I grabbed that precious hand, and we ran over the finish line together.
It’s the journey y’all. I SO LOVE THE JOURNEY. I absolutely LIVE for the journey!! And yes, some day I would absolutely love to win a medal and pick up my pace and get faster and all the things. And I’m training to do those too. But right now, I want to love the stage I’m in. Not wish I wasn’t last and feel sorry for myself. But make the most of the experience and love people and bless others with a smile and a “good job!”
Maybe I’m the only “loser” out there, I don’t know. But if you’re like me and find yourself falling short and not exactly where you want to be in regards to goals, let’s remember that this life is a journey. Let’s make the most of ALL the seasons. Always striving to be the best versions of ourselves, always growing, always getting better and sharper, and more loving and more gracious and kind. Always wanting more for ourselves, but not beating ourselves up in the failures and the hard seasons. There’s ALWAYS something to learn.
You know why I started running in the first place? I wanted to lose the baby weight after I had Frank. And after giving birth to him I realized that I’m kinda crazy strong and capable. I wanted to challenge myself and overcome something that does NOT come easy to me. My pattern in life is that I try new things, but when the going gets tough, the Stephanie gets going. I flake and quit and make excuses and move onto something different, but I was SO TIRED of that pattern. So I started with running, and it’s filtered into so many other areas of life.
No, I’m still not a great runner, but I enjoy the heck out of it and I continue to work at it, because it’s a constant challenge. How can I ask my boys to face their fears and persevere in the face of challenge if I don’t do so as well? I run so they can watch their mother work hard and set goals and achieve some goals and fail some goals and do all of it with some grace and humor.
By the way, I started training this week for my 15K in February. Anyone want to join me and my crew? I can’t promise you’ll win if you keep pace with me, but I can promise you a fun journey, and a really cute 3-year old to cross the finish line with… Cheers!