Something happened to me over the past few years that changed my life. Looking back, it wasn't some big "aha" moment. It was more of a shift in perspective, or a disruption of a prior way of thinking, over a number of days, months, and years. But it all just finally clicked together during my long run last weekend.
I stopped letting who I used to be dictate who I am meant to be.
Let me elaborate. Last Sunday, I was reaching the end of a three hour, 15 mile long trail run through the wintry woods and I thought about how wonderful this run felt. I was tired, yet felt the strongest I had in months. I was sore, but only because I had climbed hills faster and descended technical trails more nimbly than in the previous two months. But then, a small, doubtful voice poked through these uplifting thoughts, and whispered, "your legs are weaker than they were in 2013. Your endurance is nowhere close to what it used to be. You are crazy to think you can run not one, but two hard mountain ultras before the end of June."
I acknowledged these negative thoughts, and decided to replace them with positive ones about the present and future. I thought about how great I felt at that moment, and how much progress I knew I could make over the next five months of training. And then I finished that run with the three fastest miles of my run.
And then I finally realized, THIS is the key to endurance running. And really, truthfully, the key to everything. And I'd been doing it without even realizing it.
In order to move forward towards a future goal, you must let go of your past accomplishments or failures.
As athletes, it feels natural to fall back on the races we've run and the PRs we've set in the past. It's also easy to look back at poor performances and dwell on what we did wrong. It's okay to be proud of these achievements, or upset by our failures. They are all vital pieces of history that help define us as runners, cyclists, or triathletes.
But what I finally realized during that long run is that it's crazy to compare my present self to my past self. It hit me that I can't look back to 2013 and compare myself to what kind of shape I was in, and how far I was running, and how effortless a three hour run felt.
We can only be our current selves, looking forward to better future selves.
Looking back wistfully on past achievements or dwelling on the past is only useful if we are using that history to motivate one's self for future improvement. For instance, confidence is gained through positive experiences such as successful previous races and training, and confidence is absolutely necessary for pushing towards a new goal. On the other hand, negative past experiences such as DNF'ing a race or missing a PR might provide the motivation to work even harder to achieve your goal. But unless you use these experiences in a positive way, they are worthless.
Obviously, this is all a big metaphor for life, but if you've read this far, I bet you figured that out already. I'm planning to make 2015 the best year yet by accepting my past for what it is, and looking ahead towards much bigger and better things, in running and other parts of my life.
Bottom line is, you have the capability to affect your future with positive thinking and consistent actions towards your goals. If you keep looking backwards, you will never end up moving forwards.
Here's to relentless forward motion.