Most of last week I was away on my yearly trip up north to the small town where my mother’s family is from and where my parents have a little cabin. It’s become a good peaceful winding-down to my summer (not as productive as planned/hoped this time ’round, but stay tuned) and a bit of a break from the city and phones and (mostly) email that is a welcome corrective.
I also get to visit with family members I don’t see too often, and hear some old family stories. Of course many of these, I have heard before, but there’s still something that feels good about refreshing the familial memory store, a little. One story this visit (as often happens) was about my grandfather, and it has Stuff in it that I need to try to remember.
My grandfather was quite an amateur athlete, really. He did bike races, canoe races, snowshoe races, and he did distance running and walking. He won a bunch of them, in his younger days, and then he didn’t win any longer, but he really never stopped doing them. I imagine some of my interest in running draws its roots from there, and I often think of him, mid-run. I didn’t really start running until after he had passed away, which I regret, because I like to think it’s something we would have had in common.
I wear a bandana on my head when I run, and I get a lot of grins when people see it and a fair number of pirate comments, but the stereotypical pirate look has nothing to do with why I wear it. On one level, it’s just a practical solution to being bald and preventing sweat running into my eyes the whole time I’m out there, but of course there are other answers to that. The other level is that that’s what my grandfather did. I remember being very young in the back seat of the family car, and we met granddad out on one of his training runs and stopped to say hi. He was wearing a red bandana, that image has always stayed with me, and so at a certain point I decided to give it a try myself. It works pretty great.
So there are things I remember, but also things I’ve forgotten, or never knew until the family stories are getting told. The one I’m thinking about today is just something my grandfather apparently said to my aunt when they were midway through a canoe race. That it doesn’t matter how many people finish ahead of you, as long as you don’t quit. As long as you finish.
One of the things that really did draw me to running was that it’s not necessarily competitive. As the saying goes, the race is long and in the end it’s only with yourself. The race is yours. As long as you finish, you did just fine.
It’s a harder frame of mind to maintain than you might think, because of course they time these things, and it becomes hard not to think about ‘could I be just a little quicker, if’ and compare your time to x and y other people you know who did the same race, or the same distance, or even what you did, a year or two ago. Obviously pushing yourself to achieve the best you can is important, but this can so easily become another thing to beat yourself up over and make yourself feel bad about.
It extends, again I guess obviously, beyond running. Why haven’t I written more, or better? Why haven’t I had more published? Why wasn’t this summer as productive as I thought it would be and imagined it could be? Why haven’t I done as much, or as well, as x or y other people I know?
And again, having goals and standards is important. But at least for me, this can so easily become self-defeating again, if I follow the chain of thought through to the conclusion that I’m really not very good at this, not compared to x or y, and that it would really be better if I just stopped. Running. Writing. Whatever.
I at least need to listen to my grandfather when my mind starts to skitter off down these corridors. It doesn’t matter how many people are ahead of you. The race is yours, and only yours. Just finish. Do what you are capable of doing, on the day, through the week, through the summer. Do the best you can and know that you can do no more, and that is good enough.
Anyway, it’s another perspective that I try to keep in mind, both about my running, and things in general. You do your best with the tools you’ve got and the time and energy you’ve got and make the best decisions you know how to make and in the end, produce whatever you can. What other people produce isn’t really even directly relevant. Their situation was not yours.
My grandfather and I never had this conversation, or as many as I would have liked, at all. In some sense, though, I do think he is with me at times, as I run all my various sorts of races.