The day started strong. I had trained, maybe not as well as I had wished, but I felt ready. My only goal this race was to beat my last time and conquer the downtown Nashville hell, I mean hills.
There is always a point in every race when I’m confronted with the urge to quit, or should I say the opportunity, to quit. I’ve also learned that this is just a moment, maybe a few minutes, maybe a mile, typically not longer, but a moment that if I dig down deep, I can push through until I’ve found my second wind.
I’ve learned a technique for checking to see if my wanting to bail is actually my body ready to quit or my mind going into flight mode due to the discomfort. I have also learned when it happens. I know the mile and I know when I’m racing in Nashville exactly the place; just about mile ten, just as I’m going through what is called the Gulch.
Definition of Gulch: a deep or precipitous (dangerously high or steep) cleft : RAVINE especially : one occupied by a torrent (Italics mine)
Definition of torrent: : a violent stream of a liquid (such as water or lava)…or sweat????? Just sayin!
Consequently, the Gulch is almost always the place the torrent of negative self-talk likes to creep in. So, in order to check myself I do a body check. No, I don’t take out the closest runner…I check my own body. I begin at my feet. How do my feet feel? Tired but ok. How are my calves? Actually, pretty good. And I work my way up my body, stopping at each body part. This does two things. One, it occupies my mind while I’m slowly making my way through the dreaded tenth mile, and two, it reminds my mind that my body is ok. “Stop freaking out.” I’ve trained, I’m ready. I’m tired but I’m not done. Stand up tall, breathe deep, keep going. It works like a charm.
But not this time. This time nothing was working. I was spent and no amount of self-talk, body-checking or water station was going to help. The only thing I needed was a finish line or an ambulance or both. It was hot, like fry-an-egg-on-the-sidewalk-hot, or at least that’s how I remember it. I had made it through mile ten but in Nashville what awaits you after mile ten is still quite treacherous. It’s three and a half miles of hills, switchbacks, and all the while you’re in sight of the finish line. One minute you think you’re headed straight for it then the next your headed in the opposite direction. FOR THREE MILES. Meanwhile, you’re watching the truly insane head off for another 13 miles of this dreaded hell. How do they do it?
I was walking, although I don’t know how. I could no longer lift my head. My only view was the pavement for the next two feet in front of me. I began a mantra to get one foot in front of the other. My mind was fighting with itself. One of me was begging me to sit down. The other of me was telling the quitter to shut up, “You know if we sit down we will never get back up! Keep going!” (I talk to myself in “we’s.” It may seem crazy but it’s one of the most-healthy habits I have.) I knew the smart thing to do was to stop. I don’t always do the smart thing. And it’s really hard to be smart when you’re dehydrated and weak.
Her voice coming from behind me is, to this day, still something that makes me want to cry. I was at my end. I had no gas in the tank, no energy, nothing. The only thing I had left was desire to finish what I started. But I needed help. And there she was. My friend Heather, who was also running the race, came up from behind.
From the moment Heather took the wheel I went on auto-pilot. I didn’t need to think, I didn’t need to navigate the crowd, I didn’t need to do anything but stay upright and follow the sound of her voice. All I could see was her shoes and the pavement. All I could hear was her voice, not the words, just her voice. I do remember her saying, “Is my talking driving you crazy? I can shut up if you want me to. Or, I can talk. I’m an only child I can talk to myself all day.” Sometimes all we need is the sound of a familiar voice and a bit of humor to keep us going. I replied, “I can’t talk back, but please just keep talking. I’m following your voice.” And she did.
Once I had Heather at my side, I even allowed myself a couple of seconds to stop and rest. My hips were on fire. I knew if I sat down while I was alone, I may not get up again. But now I wasn’t alone. A couple times I told her, “I’m going to sit on this curb. Give me 30 seconds.” And I meant that literally, and she knew it. She timed me and in 30 seconds I got up and tried again.
And that’s how it went, all the way through the finish line.
Fast forward about 6 years (I’m guessing) and my friend and I now both own businesses literally in the same parking lot. We did not plan it. Back then it wasn’t anything either one of us would have ever even seen coming. It’s just happened. And every now and then we find ourselves in that same race. One of us spent, unable to lift our heads from the grind, and hustle, and long hours. I love the moments when we get to lift one-another up and help the other through that day’s “race.”
When I hired my first coach, he did the same thing for me.
I started this business because I liked changing lives. I had no idea how to get clients, or how to build a staff, or how to….well, really do much of anything. As someone who had been in my industry and succeeded, my coach helped me see what I couldn’t and led me. He helped me remember who I was when I would doubt. He reminded me that this is supposed to be hard. If it was easy then most businesses wouldn’t fail within the first three years (I’m about to double that, thank God).
I’m not saying all of this to scare you out of your dream but to urge you on. GO! Do the thing. Do it scared. Do it without all the training. Do it without all the money yet, make it along the way. If you have a desire to do something and it’s not going away, it’s your duty to go after it. You didn’t ask for this desire that keeps knocking at the door of your heart. So why is it there? You have to ask yourself that question. I believe God is knocking and that desire is your purpose. I have mine. I’m jumping. It’s scary. It’s new. It’s BOLD.
I told you this story to remind you that even when we don’t have everything we need to finish, we can start and trust that the people, resources, and knowledge will come when it’s needed, and usually not a moment before. Make sure you have Heathers in your life and if you don’t GO GET YOU SOME! When you leap I promise you that you’ll freak out. You’ll need a voice to listen to to keep going. I actually have several now. I've had moments when the people have already been in my life (Rob, friends, family) and times when I had to seek them out (coach, therapist, spiritual director). Both work. I've sought actual people to talk to and help me through, and at times I've dove deeply into personal growth books and audio books to pull myself through. Both work.
I have learned something that is as true as the sun coming up in the morning...Every time I take a big step, I WILL be given a test. Each leap is followed by the opportunity to let go of the new scary adventure and let the safety net catch me. Something big happens to try to scare me back into my comfort zone. But I’ve learned, just like running a race, it’s just a moment. Maybe just a day or two. I have to breathe. Do a reality check. How am I today? How are my kids today? What if I fail? That's not the question that keeps me moving forward. This is: What if I don’t keep trying? That last question is the one that moves me through the moment. It’s mile ten all over again. The “Gulch.” But see, now I know what to do there. And over time, so will you. Trust that. See, I have made a decision; I would rather deal with failure rather than the regret of never trying.
Every day I get to be that voice to someone. If you need someone to talk you through “the race,” I’d love to be that for you. Check out my Action Circle Program. Let’s get you in the race! If you're worried you don't have what it takes to run the race, let me tell you that you do. But, at times, you'll need someone to remind you of that. Make sure you're running with people who will remind you.
Jen Mulford is an entrepreneur, speaker, author and champion for personal freedom.