If you haven’t read The Four Agreements, by Don Miguel Ruiz, I highly recommend it. The Agreements are simple principles that, when applied, make life smooth, peaceful, successful and happy. Deal is, these principles which include — “be impeccable with your word, don’t take things personally, never make assumptions and always do your best” — while simple, aren’t easy (that’s where the fourth one comes in – you just do your best).
Last week as I was reading the book, as I often do, especially during challenging times, something new hit me from the “always do your best” section:
Moment to moment, your best will be different — better when you are healthy as opposed to sick, well rested as opposed to tired … Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse and regret.
Here’s the kicker: If you try too hard to do more than your best, you will spend more energy than is needed and in the end your best will not be enough. When you overdo, you deplete your body and go against yourself and it will take you longer to accomplish your goal. But if you do less than your best, you subject yourself to frustrations, self-judgment, guilt, and regrets.
Allow me to repeat the part that blew my mind: If you try too hard to do more than your best, you will spend more energy than is needed and in the end your best will not be enough. When you overdo, you deplete your body and go against yourself and it will take you longer to accomplish your goal.
Holy shit. This is true. There are areas — baking, sending Christmas cards, returning phone calls and playing Guitar Hero, for example — where I do not always do my best and I do feel guilty about that sometimes, but this overdoing has impacted some of the more important-to-me areas of my life. I have determined that a particular magazine article was super important, for example, and worked too hard, written, fixed, rewritten and written again until it properly sucked — it’s like scrubbing the silver when what it really needs is a gentle polish. It goes dull or scratches rather than shining as it should.
My best stories are generally composed under a close deadline with barely enough time for researching, conducting interviews and pulling information together in story form (here, I cover all my bases to the best of my ability) but little time for obsessing and perfecting.
And, my god, has the overdoing touched my racing life. Perhaps this explains why my first marathon was successful. The weather was horrendous — 65 degrees with 30 mile per hour winds. Some of the most seasoned runners were dropping, but I, lacking the expectations and fears with which experienced runners are plagued, finished strong, in 3:44 (my goal at the beginning of the season had been a 4 hour marathon) and with a huge smile on my face. I had done my best that day. No more. No less.
Since that virginal marathon, I have poisoned much of my training with this attitude that I have to do more than my best. More miles than my peers, more obsessing, more perfecting, more worrying, more planning, more expectations, more pressure. That leads to less balance in my life, arguments with my husband, neglect of my children, guilt, less sleep, more stress and ultimately physical fatigue and injury.
Looking back at my training logs, there’s this point every season at which I am at my best —I am running well, happy, unstressed. And then when I get a couple months out from a very big race, I go into panic mode and start pushing. That’s why I often do better in tune-up races than in the big races.
For example, at the Dallas Running Club 15k Loop about six weeks before the “goal race”, Philadelphia, I ran my best ever 15k (in 1:04 :02) and came in third overall female. You know what I did? The next day I went out and ran 21 miles. The next weekend I bonked on our group 20-miler and my knee wet to hell.
The day of that 15k, I was doing my best. The next day, I was doing more than my best and it was the beginning of the end of my season.
WHY DID I DO THAT? That’s the money question which probably only a qualified professional could attempt to answer. But I do know this: I won’t do it again. This is going to be one of my most diligent promises to myself in the coming year.
Sitting here, unable to run, I am like a junkie in rehab. I did some dumb stuff, hit bottom and am now in recovery. When I reenter the running world, it will be with a renewed gratitude and sense of responsibility to myself.
Do me a favor, when you see me out next year, beaming after a peachy race, tell me to stop for a minute to enjoy it. Tell me to keep doing my best.
Remind me to not go and f*ck things up again. I’ll do the same for you.