I’ve always been the kind of person who thrives when I am focused on my goals, focused without distractions. For me success comes from within, when I dig deep inside my soul and ask myself, “What do I want more than anything else in the world?”
I ask myself this question often. Over the years the answer has evolved but it has always been the same at it’s core. I want to be the best I can be. I want to go to sleep every single night knowing that I have done everything I can to be better than I was when I woke up that morning.
Some days are full of distractions and frustrations and the big picture becomes foggy. The older I get the more challenging it has been to see through the fog, especially with my own running. Running pushes me to be better, it grounds me and it takes me anywhere I want to go literally and figuratively. When I ask myself what I want more than anything in the world it always comes back to putting one foot in front of the other and chasing down goals. I want to be better than yesterday.
Running has always been a huge part of my life, at one point when I was younger it was overly consuming. I’ve learned to have a healthier relationship with running and I’ve learned that it isn’t the end of the world when my training plan doesn’t match my training log. In fact, 3/4 the time I don’t even have a training plan anymore and that is fine with me. With all of these changes though one thing will always remain the same–when my running is going well, when I am focused, and I am able to commit to my training everything else in my life just magically falls into place. Running in this capacity gives me a laser focus and it automatically weeds out distractions.
The first time I can recall this focus, this incredible amount of determination, and this ability to eliminate all distractions was in high school. It was a week before the first cross-country meet of my junior year of high school. This was following the summer I was injured in a car accident and unable to train until right before school started. Anyway, my team went to preview the course for an upcoming meet. I sat on the bus the whole way to the course staring out the window in complete silence, not talking to anyone. I wanted to have a great season more than anything I’d ever wanted in my life. I wanted to be the very best athlete I could be. I sat there just imagining myself running fast, pushing up the hills, and then flying to the finish line. It was all that I thought about and every choice I made that season was linked to this goal, from what I ate, to the time I’d go to bed each night, to the activities I’d participate in after practice. I was laser focused on my running and I wouldn’t let anything distract me. They say if you do one thing every single day to work toward your goals you will achieve them, but for me [at that time] everything I was doing every single day was so that I could get there. Just doing one thing every day was not going to be enough for me.
Because I was recovering from a broken sacrum, I wore neon green compression shorts under my running shorts nearly every workout or meet that season. This just fed into my ability to weed out distractions. I’d put those shorts on and I couldn’t feel the aching and soreness of having been injured; I couldn’t hear a thing going on around me. I ran with pure determination every single day. I crushed all of my expectations that season. I may have started out with a physical disadvantage early on but I had a mental advantage. I was more focused during the fall of 2003 than I ever have been in my entire life. LASER FOCUSED.
The thing about focus though is that it can slip away. It’s like this magical element that can disappear just as quickly as it arrived. Like a snow globe, if you shake it, everything changes. Life changes can shake you out of focus, cause you to become distracted, split your focus to multiple things, or shift that laser focus to something entirely different. This happened to me at the end of that cross-country season. Things in my life started changing and evolving and my focus was gone. My attention was split and I was focusing on too many irrelevant things. I want to scream furiously at my 16 yers old self for focusing on these irrelevant things because they were not things that were going to make me the very best that I could be.
Right before I started graduate school I had this laser focus once more, that was 4 years ago. Running isn’t easy to begin with, but I’ve never been the kind of runner who can run and run well under extreme stress. For me, running in stressful situations or at times when I am extremely distracted is nearly impossible. I’ve been known to just skip runs during times like that or to push running to the bottom of my priority list because sometimes it seems so unimportant compared to other things. When my life gets shaken up my focus becomes very foggy. Graduate school has made the last 4 years very foggy.
Now the fog is starting to clear and I can see the big picture again. I had to sacrifice one set of goals in pursuit of another. It was absolutely worth it, but now it is time to go all the way back to the beginning of this journey and channel that girl in the green shorts. On the flight home from Europe last month, just like on the bus ride to preview that cross-country course in the fall of 2003, I made a decision to be the best athlete that I can be. Life is constantly trying to shake things into a foggy haze, but slowly I am weeding out distractions. Slowly I am eliminating things that will not help me reach my goals. Creating that laser focus requires sacrifice and the ability to prioritize what is truly important at the core of my being. The distractions will always be there, but I can choose not to see or hear them.