Mile Markers.

Yesterday, I ran the Jingle Bell 5K for time. As part of my TriDot training, we periodically do time trial efforts to gauge progress. Yesterday, I pushed the 5K as hard as I could and improved my 5K time from 28:53 to 27:00.  I was thrilled to see improvement. I was thrilled to push hard and find a new gear. I was thrilled to cross the finish line knowing that I’d done the absolute best I could on that day. Mostly though, it occurred to me that I depend heavily on mile markers, in running and in life, and that maybe I shouldn’t need them quite so much.

I ran without my GPS watched because it hasn’t been working very well. Previously, I’d been doing my time trial runs on a track so I would know exactly where I was, how quickly I was moving, and how much more I had to run. I could gauge if I was running too fast or not fast enough. I could check my time at each mile (or even each lap) and adjust as needed.

Yesterday, without a GPS watch, I was dependent on mile markers to check my progress, and I just assumed the route would be marked so that I’d know when I’d completed each mile. As I ran, I realized there were no markers. I had no idea where I was on the course. Had I run a mile or a mile and a half? I had no idea if I was pushing too hard or slowing down. Without any information, all I could do was run until I crossed the finish line. So that’s what I did. And I hit my best 5K time since my training started.

This past year, as I approached turning 40, I’ve done a lot of looking at mile markers of various kinds. Races, to do lists, travel plans. I’ve packed the last year with things I could work towards and check off. And with each effort, I asked myself, “How am I doing? Am I doing enough? Do I need to do more?”

It’s been a wonderful year. I have a trip this week to Whidbey Island, a place of refuge where I get to write. Then I have my trip to Africa for my Kilimanjaro climb and safari, an adventure that excites and terrifies me. Then what? Do I make a bunch of plans for next year?

As I’m starting to think about what comes next, I’m realizing that I needed a packed calendar this year because I needed to force myself to keep putting one foot in front of the other. “Work towards the next race. Work towards the next trip. Keep taking steps forward. Don’t look back. Don’t sit still. Hit one goal. Hit the next goal. Keep going.” That’s been my mentality all year.

I think that next year I want to live and do without setting up a million activities and trips and things. In other words, I want a wide open course with few, if any, mile markers.

I just want to run and see what happens.

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