The Turtle Wins

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Above: View of the country-side from my running trail

There are many forms of wildlife on my running trail, which goes along a lake. Depending on the time of year, I see deer, beavers, bunnies, chipmunks, squirrels, frogs, various birds, fish and turtles. The turtles lay their eggs on the banks of the lake, and as they hatch make their way towards the water. I often see them on a log in the water sunning themselves, or swimming happily.

I have not seen turtles on the trail yet this year. We are still getting intermittent bouts of snow. Yes, it is May and Upstate New York is still getting snow! Last week on the trail, I saw a small family of bunnies. The bunnies took off down the trail way ahead of me, and there was no way that I was going to catch up with them. I was content to watch the white puffs of tail bounce off.

The experience reminded me of the old fable of the tortoise and the hare. As a child, its a cute and amusing story. As we get older, we begin to understand the moral of the tale – “Slow and steady wins the race.” We may understand that concept, but as young adults, the adage is often accompanied by rolling our eyes and a sneer.

As a middle-aged marathon runner who has overcome many injuries and is still dealing with medical issues, the tortoise and hare fable is becoming my mantra. I start training for my fall marathon in June. Honestly, I am unsure at this point if I am physically going to be able to run another full marathon or if I will have to scale-back and be content with the half marathon distance. The doctors seem confident I can still run a full, so I am going with that. But I also know my own body, and lately I have had more bad days then good.

I think of that fable, and even though the tortoise was moving slow, he kept moving. He kept going and he finished. That is important. He may not have been as fast as the hare, but the tortoise was able to keep going. I have been stuck in this mindset of time. They say for every marathon, you should have three goals. You never know what is going to happen in 26.2 miles, so if you are unable to reach your first goal, you will at least reach one of the three.

Two of my three goals for when I run a marathon are related to time. One goal is to BQ (qualify for Boston), the other goal is to PR (beat my own personal best time = become faster). The third goal I usually phrase: “Oh, well, yeah, and if all else fails, just cross the finish line.” Crossing the finish line is kind of “if the shit hits the fan” kind of goal. But at the same time, I’m pretty adamant about that finish line. I also say that “run, walk, crawl, dragged, or if in Philly in drag, cross the finish line.”  To be honest, the finish line goal is the one I have always taken for granted. I say that goal with a laugh – of course I’m going to cross the finish line!

After my 2015 marathon and 2016 health issues, I can say that goal is no longer a laughing matter. Crossing the finish line is going to be my one and only goal when I run my full marathon this fall. I am completely abandoning any goals of time. This year, I will simply be thankful to be able to complete a full marathon. I am staring down the possibility that I may no longer be able to complete a full marathon. I need to think like the tortoise and keep going. Even if I go slow, I need to cross the finish line.

Another saying in running that has always elicited a smirk (at least from me) is “DNF (did not finish) is better than did not start.” My 2015 marathon was the first race in my running career that I came dangerously close to DNF. That was the race in which I tore the muscle in my hip around mile 18. I finished, but it was slow and involved incredible pain. It was the first time I needed wheelchair medical assistance when coming across the finish line.

That race was tough. A year of planning and five months of training to not finish? That’s a hard pill to swallow. One thing I did learn in that race is that walking is okay as long as you keep moving. That’s one of the many reasons why I am using the Canadian run/walk method in this year’s marathon both training and race day. I still think that a DNF would be hard for me to handle. I’m the type of person who will just keep going even if it kills me because I want the finish line. I want the medal. The marathon means a lot to me.

Not being able to deal with a DNF is something I still need to work on psychologically. Hopefully it will never happen and I will not have to deal with it in real life. But I feel I should be prepared for the possibility mentally.

What I am prepping myself for this year is the solo goal of: FINISH. I am going with the tortoise philosophy of “slow and steady wins the race.” When I run this fall, I don’t care how long it takes me, I just want to cross that finish line. Giving up my time goals is wicked hard.

But do you know what’s harder? Not running.

Not being able to run anymore would destroy me. We can’t have that.

So I need to give up my time goals so I can continue to cross finish lines. My glory days and records may be over, but as long as I can still GO, it’s a good thing.

If you think about the fable, the turtle always wins. Yes, he may be slow, but he finished. The hare goes fast, but he gets tired. He may become injured. The hare will only be fast for so long and then he will slow too. The hare may win the race and get the medal. There will come the time when the hare slows and does not get the medal – the younger hare will get the medal and the older hare will be in the same position the tortoise has occupied all along – of finishing.

The turtle always wins.

Part of me feels that in this scenario, I am settling. I feel like I am giving up my goals because they are “just too hard.” I’m not sure if that is true or if I am just being realistic about what my body can do now given the health challenges I have.

My ultimate goal is to keep running for as long as I can – hopefully my whole life. So I’m trying to justify sacrificing my time goals in order to meet my ultimate goal. If I push myself to the point where I can no longer run a full marathon, then I lose it all.

Turtles live a long time. They live longer than bunnies. So, I’m going to stop smirking and rolling my eyeballs and take the tortoise lesson to heart. I’m training this year for distance, not for time. I want to cross the finish line this year and for many more years after this.

The turtle wins.

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