I can’t tell you what I was thinking when I registered for a 100K race (I’ll spare you the math. It is roughly 62 miles with a few thousand feet of elevation gain and loss). The reality is I probably wasn’t thinking about the work it would take to get there. Then again, how many of us actually do consider this? What I was thinking about was how good it would feel to be done. The sense of accomplishment and excitement from doing something that three years ago would have felt impossible.
Standing at the start line I simultaneously held complete insecurity that I’d have the ability to finish, dread for the pain of what lay ahead of me, and excitement to see how it all played out. One thing you should know about small local ultramarathons like this is that they happen with very little fanfare. If you’ve ever seen a big marathon or Ironman triathlon, this is nothing like that. About 20 of us stood there in the cold gray morning, waiting for the race director to count down to the start over a small blow horn.
In the blink of an eye, we were on our way. I’ll spare you the nitty gritty, somewhat boring, details of the actual race day. I had a ton of fun, but what happened that day isn’t my point of capturing this in words. My point is that even though we often think it is, the race isn’t the point of the goal. The real focus of that goal was getting to that start line, to begin with. Yes, I finished (1st place female at 3 a.m. with five folks cheering me over the finish line). Yes, I had fun (my fun may not be your fun). What mattered way more than accomplishing my goal was the middle, the part no one really saw where I was forced to show up day after day for myself in order to reach my goal.
The middle is where I got at 5 a.m. day after day to squeeze in miles or get work done early to free up time to run later in the day. The middle is the part where my Saturdays were occupied with four to five-hour runs every weekend for months. The middle is where my body ached with soreness and my mind told me to quit. The middle is where I questioned why I was even doing this, to begin with. The middle is where no one but myself was telling me to keep going.
I think for so many people who have audacious goals, we forget that the journey to the goal is what grows, stretches, and molds us into someone new way more than actually reaching the goal itself. I’ve heard people who wait for their book launch day with the anticipation of a child on Christmas Eve, only to be met with the letdown of another ordinary day that just happens to be the day their book can be purchased. Or how many of us have walked across and stage at graduation or landed that job we always wanted, but somehow everything still feels like it did before we got to that point? We work so hard for that moment, but what do we do when the moment does not feel like a monumental event?
I think the same thing that leads us to this place of disappointment at what should be the most exciting point, is the same reason that so many of us write down a goal that we give up on before making much progress: we neglect to focus on the middle of the story.
Let’s face it, the middle part is what sucks the most. The beginning is exciting. The end is celebratory. The middle is where the work happens. The middle is where we doubt. It’s where we tell ourselves we aren’t worth the effort. It’s where we get tired, beat down, and defeated. The middle is where goals go to die. It’s long and arduous. There are highs and lows and far too many average days. It can feel like we are so close on minute and in the next breath feel like we will never make it. It takes effort and daily choices. It will make us question why we wanted this goal in the first place.
That middle part is where I truly accomplished my goal of running a 100K. The actual day itself would not have happened without the middle part of the story. In a world where we are constantly flooded with bright and shiny ends, I encourage you to remember the middle. All too often this part is hidden from public view, but I promise it is there. All stories have a middle, and perhaps that is what we need to pay attention to the most. That is what should be our main consideration when we make goals for ourselves. The middle is where the true growth and change lies. Let’s begin to celebrate the middle.
Are you in the beginning, middle, or end of a story of a goal? Or perhaps you’re in the liminal space between? All have value to who we are and who we are becoming. If you are stuck and want to move forward though, you must first recognize which part of the story you’re in.