Sometimes, our will plays no part in going faster, doing better, or trying harder.
I was hoping to set a PR in a 5k (3.1 miles) race this morning. I went out from the starting line at a blistering pace (too fast, really) in an attempt to test my limits and try to run under 17.45, which would require a 5.38-per-mile pace.
I hit Mile 1 in 5.31. This was my fastest race mile ever, but I could feel a hint of lactic acid building in my legs. I was in the lead pack running about 7th place, although I knew some of the greyhounds in front of me would drop the hammer at some point. These were racers that I know well, but have never had the pleasure of seeing up close during a race, so that was a nice experience.
As we hit a slight downhill in Mile 2, they began to separate from me a bit. It soon became clear that I was not going to stay with this front group. I hit mile two at 11.24 (5.53 for Mile 2--too slow for my PR goal). In an effort to go out hard and test my limits, I had pretty much cooked my legs--so, there would be no strong finishing kick to bail me out. It was going to be a grind in Mile 3.
Mile 3 includes the only real hill on the course, and it brought burning waves into my legs. A PR was out of the question, but I knew I would be very close to 18 mins, so I summoned everything I had to pour on the coal and keep my time under 18:00. I hit Mile 3 at 17.27, with the finish line in sight just 0.1 miles away--and 33 seconds to get there.
I churned toward the line with ferocity, arms flailing, lungs full of razors, quadriceps and hamstrings teeming with acid, face contorted in severe pain and grim determination.
And I hit the line in 18.01.
The sweet relief of the finish was somewhat embittered by one second--or the amount of time it takes to stand from a chair or lift a spoonful of cereal. Eighteen minutes of strategy and pain was spoiled by a solo tick-tock of the clock. Or, so it would seem.
But, there is a life lesson here. My WILL to keep it under 18 minutes played no role in the reality of actually DOING it in that final furious blitz to the finish line. Maybe that second could have been made up somewhere else on the course--a faster downhill stretch, a harder push up that hill...or maybe harder training two weeks ago, easier training two weeks ago, more sleep, less sleep, the "What-if" list goes on forever. We all play this game with our circumstances in life that fail to meet our expectations. Find fault, assess blame, rationalize. Later, rinse, repeat.
The hard reality is that in the moment of truth, my physical best today was not enough to reach my goal. It seems that is often the case in life. Racing simply puts that truth right in our face, lungs, and legs for all to see and for us to feel on a physical and emotional level. There is no rationalizing the stopwatch or the clock. It's truth can be glorious or cruel and that line is drawn with the smallest of pens. It is a line that is one second wide.
Thank God for limits and the reminder that finding our limits, physical or otherwise, is often where we most clearly see Christ. Thank God for grace, especially in those times when my best is short of the goal. Thank God for the privilege of racing and the hope of running the race and keeping the faith even when we fall short.