Some people were waiting patiently in the foyer for a wide shot, to get the full effect. Others were bending down, peering closely, and following the alphabetical list with their finger to find their name. A few jostled to grab an edge, pose quickly for a selfie before too many people saw them, and had the photo already uploaded before they were onto Colombo Street.
This photo wall was the highlight for many athletes at the Christchurch Marathon last weekend. It’s easy to see why. The logo of the titular sponsor and their motivational message was made up of the names of every participant who was running. The sign was a visual representation of everyone who’d slogged it out for weeks on cold mornings, hot afternoons, busy weekends and in between meetings. It was sure proof that these athletes were committed to a highly commendable amount of exercise in public, and of course they deserved a photo to represent that.
As I lined up to get my race pack and number on Saturday morning, I thought about that sign.
You see, I was lined up in the ‘Late Entries’ queue. I had checked the weather forecast, moved a brunch in my calendar and decided on Friday morning that I would enter the half marathon. The green form with my details scrawled hastily on the top was clutched in my hand, there for the world to see how disorganised I was. I had to wait in line for close to half an hour, a fraction of the time it would have taken me to sign up online three days earlier. When I received my race bib, it didn’t have my name on it. There was no mini OSM snack bar for me. I was late.
And when I went back downstairs to have another look at the sign, of course my name was not on there. The organisers had printed it much earlier. I took a photo anyway. For me, this sign symbolised how I can change my own mind.
See, at the start of this year I had told myself that I wouldn’t enter any running events for a while. I hinted at the impact that training for a marathon had on my overall wellbeing. I used the word militancy with reason.
My late entry showed me that I had learned to soften my own insistence with peak preparation. I could rock up to a major athletic event and decide to join in because the weather looked lovely. I could attempt something like this for the joy of running with four thousand other people around Hagley Park and into the red zone on a Sunday morning. I could leave my watch and phone behind, and look at the trees instead of the time. My white-knuckled grip on measuring success with numbers had finally started to loosen. My goal was to enjoy myself. I did.
When we’re able to change our own mind, to look at what we used to believe and notice how it’s different now, we learn that we don’t have to be held hostage by what we think. It’s important to acknowledge these things. I’ve never entered an event that late before. I wouldn’t dare have dreamed to do that, because I would tell myself that I would not have trained enough, and I would injure myself. I wouldn’t be able to finish. Or I would be embarrassingly slow. I would fail because I wasn’t prepared.
This time, the tapes upstairs had changed. I could tell because I smiled as I ran down the opening shoot onto Kilmore Street, with a beautiful mix of pre-race nerves and excitement for what was to come. I tried to commit the sound of the pitter-patter of hundreds of shoes running down streets to memory, because usually the rumble of cars and busses dominates everything else. I waved to the drummers by the lake in Hagley Park. I said thank you to a few marshals. I encouraged a few fellow runners. I noticed the rowers out on the Avon. I talked myself through the final 5k, muttering the verses of ‘My Shot’ that I could remember in time to my pace. I finished with that same smile on my face, banana in one hand, medal in the other. What a morning.
Those tapes have slowly been rewritten over the last six months through experience, through trust in myself, through looking back and knowing what I was capable of, and through learning to view my achievements with values less measurable, but more meaningful, than time.
Of course, it’s not for me to rank what metrics of achievement anyone “should” be using. Everyone’s time is measurable and public. It’s the most obvious way to measure improvement and success in a race. It’s just that last weekend, I put into practice the ones that mattered to me. What I felt eclipsed those red digits.
Was I able to do that precisely because my previous militancy had afforded me a base level of fitness that made running 21k mostly enjoyable? Highly likely, and that still conflicts me. But I am learning where to draw the line, loosen my grip on measurable outcomes, and how to focus on the “metrics” that matter to me.
Just because you can’t measure it doesn’t make it any less important.