Don't look back. That's what I told myself as I rounded the corner of a sun-streaked Central Park somewhere in between the leafy green mile markers and the finish line. Men in NYPD and FDNY sweatshirts sped by, cheering on their fellow runners as if they were their own recruits. Bare-handed high-fives and peddling sneakers punctuated the stillness of an early Saturday morning in New York. I gripped onto my Styrofoam cup, half filled with ice-cold water, and steered through two more runners. Could I keep up the pace? Why did it matter so much? I pushed harder, trying to outrun any nagging thoughts that threatened to slow me down. This race was nothing short of a thrill for me.
Three years ago it would have been out of the question. My heart was both physically and emotionally battered, and I had no choice but to face what was weighing me down. The more I began to focus on the path ahead of me, the more things seemed to pick up the pace, just like the miles I ran today and just like the long distances I began to run in general. I realized miles are a lot like years; there are some miles that feel like they'll never end, some miles where everyone seems to pass you by, and some miles where you wish you could repeat the same pace and running conditions over and over again. There are even some miles where you lose people along the way, and those are the toughest runs.
I guess you could look at injuries the same way. Many times we push ourselves too hard and leave little time for rest or any amount of reflection. Injuries, as worrisome, intrusive, and annoying as they can be, train us to think and act differently about the way we're living. Their imposed timeout can introduce us to new people and force us to look outside of ourselves in ways that have profound impacts on the course of our lives. I'm not just talking about the impact of physical injuries; I'm talking about all sorts of emotional and mental obstacles that punctuate the course we're on now.
A year has passed since I moved to New York City, a move that took more than a few slow years to come to fruition, and a move that was punctuated with a series of daunting delays. Moving forward finally happened when I let go of being frustrated from setbacks and focused on the things in my life that were working out. It was these things that pushed me forward, however small they seemed to be at the time. Completing the race today was one of those small accomplishments, letting me feel the tangibility of closing the chapter to all of the miles I've put behind me. Besides not letting ourselves look back in a way that will weigh us down, perhaps the biggest challenge is knowing when to pause with gratitude rather than anxiety during the slower miles, or really during the slower years, that can be gifts in disguise if we choose to view them that way.