Dealing with Disappointment:

When Your "Best" Isn't Enough

I don't know about you, but life is not always the proverbial bowl of cherries. We all have goals, wishes, and desires. Sometimes those things come to fruition and sometimes they don't. Sometimes the result is the direct consequence of what we have either done or not done. On the other hand, the result is often due to circumstances we either don't understand or over which we have little control. We often perceive the disappointments as personal failures. We internalize those feelings and end up feeling frustrated, angry, and depressed. If these emotions are not soon checked, the emptiness inside grows, the sun doesn't shine quite as brightly, and there is seldom a moment when we aren't ruminating over every detail of the situation. Self- doubt exponentially rises. Confidence wanes. You are embarrassed and don't want to discuss it. After all, no one really understands.

Sounds pretty serious, doesn't it? Only a horrible tragedy could prompt such an emotional response. Or, perhaps it could triggered be the end of a long relationship or trouble in your marriage. Better yet, perhaps it could result from your failure to win a political race for a seat in the Senate. Or, maybe it could result from running a personal best in a race and "losing", managing to come in a disappointing third place. Don't laugh. It could happen. In fact, it did happen.

It's been almost three weeks since the running of the Mountain Masochist Trail Run. This race is held on the third weekend of October each fall, this year marking the 16th running. For this writer, it would be a fifth attempt on this tough course with approximately 9000 feet of elevation gain. Previous years yielded a mixed bag for me: a very bad ankle sprain with torn ligaments the first year, a general struggle throughout with dead legs, bonking, and diarrhea the second year, with a pretty good run the third year but falling six minutes behind the eventual winner and five minutes shy of breaking the women's elusive nine-hour barrier. Each of those years I finished second. Then, last year, I ran with no real pressure from behind and finished first, but with a slower 9:11. This year, with two very fast runners from the Boston area registered, I knew I would have no chance of winning without breaking nine hours. I diligently studied previous split sheets, calculating the intervals I needed to run to achieve my goal. I was fit and strong. I had a burr under my saddle from the previous week, having lost a trail race I really wasn't "racing" by 20 seconds. I was a little nervous but ready to run. But, as they say, best laid plans of mice and men…

I ran the first six miles in the dark, at times side-by-side one of the fast northern girls. By the time we started up the first portion of the race that was trail, both of the fast girls briskly passed me on the climb. However, I really wasn't worried. I was running what I knew I needed to run. No faster. No slower. My goal was to be able to run well in the latter miles of the course. I certainly didn't want to blow the whole wad early on. Besides, those girls had no idea how difficult the course got later on. Perhaps running hard now would present a problem for them later. As I was coming into aid station four (11.2 miles), I saw the girls leaving. Perfect. They had very little lead on me and I was running according to my preconceived plan.

Oops. Here's where the plan begins to unravel. As I ran on toward aid station 5, I began to notice a very uncomfortable feeling in my stomach. It became very distended and felt as though a huge knife was being twisted inside. It resulted in such unpleasantness as belching, dry heaves, and diarrhea. The pain was such that I found it impossible to run at times. I tried walking as fast as I could, knowing that precious minutes were ticking away. The girls, running together, were building a substantial lead. I really began to wonder if I would need to drop. Climbing up to station number six (17.5 miles), I was praying. Stations six to eight sported good gravel roads, many of which were downhill and all were very runnable. Under normal circumstances, this was a place to make up some time. If my problems didn't ease up by then, I doubted I would be able to continue. Not being able to eat or drink, I ran through the aid station with a "here it goes" kind of attitude. As the miles fell away, I began to make better progress, howbeit not very speedy. And then, by the eighth aid station, I finally began to keep a little fluid and fuel in my gut.

By the 26.9 mile mark (aid station 10), the girls had eight minutes on me. I did not like the news but it also did not come as a surprise. I am glad their lead wasn't more. What did surprise me, however, was a glance at my watch told me I was actually still on pace to break nine hours. Off I went. I was on a mission, pushing hard on the climb up Long Mountain. I distanced myself from the runners who came into the aid station with me. I even caught a few runners. Then, by station 12 (32.1 miles), their lead was down to six minutes. Unfortunately, entering the "loop" at 33.6 miles, they picked up a minute on me. I made myself run in the loop when I didn't feel like running, knowing I needed to register a decent "loop" time in order to get back in the race. As it was, the girls split up and exited the 5-miles loop with six and 10 minute leads.

To make a long story short, I ran as hard as I could. I really wanted to close the gap. Of course, the harder you run, the more tired you get. And, it is at those times where you need to win a mental battle over what your body is telling you. Besides, more than likely, I surmised, those two girls were facing the same struggles as me. As it turned out, the eventual winner, Gail Ierardi, ran extremely well over those final 13 miles. I was able to run steadily, always looking for Christy Cosgrove on the trail up ahead. By aid stations 14 and 15, I had cut her lead to four minutes and then three minutes. Later, I would find out aid station 16 had Christy passing through four minutes ahead of me. Nevertheless, there were only three miles yet to the finish. The gauntlet had to be laid down. It was now or never. Glancing at my watch, I was again surprised to see a sub-nine hour finish still possible. I ran that last rocky section as well as I ever had but never saw Christy. My last mile was at a 7:30 pace. I managed to whittle away a few more minutes, but Christy still arrived at the finish line a little more than a minute and a half ahead of me. I had needed just a little more real estate and I would have caught her. I finished in 8:57:56. Prior to the day, only three women had ever run under nine hours. Now, three more names would be added to the list. I was glad my name would be among them. However, the significance of a sub-nine hour time was suddenly lost in my own mind. My best, as of yet, was not enough.

I have been warned in the past to graciously accept congratulations after a race - even when not completely satisfied. All who do so are genuine and sincere. Many who extend such acknowledgements finish far behind, drop out, or are total non-runners. I try to be pleasant. I try to watch my attitude. I try really hard to not say "Yes, but…" I do not ever want to make excuses. However, it is a dilemma. Even if I am successful in hiding my true feelings, I still have very real feelings of disappointment and to a certain extent, failure.

On an intellectual basis, I know my time was not "bad". I am pleased I was able to rise above my physical ills and still run a negative split on the last half of the course. But, fact of the matter is, I don't like getting beat and I now know I can run better. I do not feel I have ever raced up to my potential. It is extremely frustrating. So, what should my response be?

My mother, a very godly woman, wrote me a sweet note of encouragement the week after the race. She quoted Philippians 3:13b and 14. "Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus". Reading on, verse 15 and 16 say, "All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too will God make clear to you. Only let us live up to what we have already attained." She has a way of putting things in perspective. In the big picture, the prize for which I am to strive is fullness in my relationship with Christ. It has to do with my personal relationship with him and displaying practical Christianity to those around me. Yes, part of my Biblical responsibility is to be "whole-hearted" in all I do. We have a definite responsibility to maximally use the talents and gifts God has given us. Why? To direct honor and praise to him. Will my third place finish in a race have any eternal significance? I doubt it. But, can my response to that third place finish either positively or negatively reflect on the reality of Christ in my life? You bet.

So, what is to be learned from this experience? Allow me to make a list.

    1. Honest and appropriate preparation is a must.
    2. Have a plan but be flexible. Change the plan when appropriate.
    3. Appreciate the hard times. They make the easier times seem even better.
    4. Keep pushing. Don't give up. Don't give in.
    5. Constantly ask yourself, "Am I doing my best right now in these circumstances?"
    6. Realize that the time of suffering in a race is miniscule when compared to your entire life. You can bear that.
    7. Not achieving a goal can act as the little irritant necessary for an oyster to create a beautiful pearl.
    8. Realize the sun will rise the next morning.
    9. Realize it is the character, diligence, and perseverance of the racer that is most important - not necessarily the actual outcome of the race.
    10. . Look ahead and prepare for tomorrow. For excellence is not a gift given, but a skill perfected.

Whatever challenges we face, whatever obstacles we meet, we are more than conquerors with God.

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