I just completed Portland to Coast (PTC)—an intense, 129-mile walk relay from downtown Portland, Oregon to the beautiful Oregon coast. From 3:00 a.m. on Friday, August 25, to 12:45 p.m. on Saturday, August 26, I was buckled in for one wild ride. Nay, a lofty adventure! I was on a team of 12 fantastic peeps—all lovely coworkers of mine. We were in vans of six and each person on our team had to walk two legs of the relay. Some legs were longer, some were shorter. But it didn't matter; we were all in it together and there is nothing that will bond you to someone like being in a van with them for over 24 hours, stinky and sleep-deprived, yet full of adrenaline as you push yourselves to the limit. #goodtimes.
But that's why I love races! And PTC was no exception. I also love races, because I always learn something about myself. Some life lesson that I need to understand (or be reminded of). From my first half marathon back in 2013, the lesson I learned was I complete, not compete. That was crucial as I am often too competitive for my own good. That brand of competitiveness is focused on crushing others, instead of doing my best. That brand of competitiveness is about exalting myself instead of humbly giving it my all. Therefore, learning through my first big race that my most important competitor is myself—my mind—instead of the other people on the course was a huge revelation for me. Since that first half marathon, every race I have participated in has left me a little wiser and a little more honest with myself. So, what did my first leg of Portland to Coast have to teach me? How important it is to look forward and not look back.
I am a Christian. Some of you who are reading this know that about me (or I pray that you do by the way I live my life) and some of you may not. And as I was power walking during leg one of PTC, super jazzed and intent on walking my best time yet, all I could think about was Lot's wife. Do you know Lot's story? If not, here it is in brief: Lot lived in Sodom and Gomorrah, the sin city of Abraham's day. As a result of all the city's depravity, the Lord sought to destroy the city and everyone in it, except Lot and his family. Right before Lot and his peeps escaped, they were instructed by the Lord's messengers to not look back at the city while it was being destroyed and to keep their eyes forward. But Lot's wife looked back. And the instant she did, she turned into a pillar of salt.
Weird to be thinking about that during the middle of race? Perhaps. But as I said, I am consumed with winning. Almost to a fault. And though I had learned about a proper competitive spirit, I found myself having to remember that lesson within the first five minutes of Portland to Coast ("You complete, Hannah, you do not compete"). The very thing that kept me going on my first leg of my PTC journey was looking ahead to the next person I could pass! Here I was trying to crush others again! They were where I wanted to be.
But something interesting happened: when I did pass someone (also know as a "kill"), I became consumed with where they were behind me. "Are they going to catch up to me? Are they mad at me for passing them? Was it rude to pass them? Are they going to pass me back?" I wanted to turn around every time and assess the situation. But if I looked behind me, it would slow me down. And I didn't want to slow down. I wanted to win!
And then I thought of Lot's wife. A lot of good looking back did her. So I had to have a little pep talk with myself and it went a lil' something like this: "Why do you care about who is behind you, Hannah? For that matter, why do you care about who is ahead of you? You are where you are. You do not need to worry about who or what's behind. They may be close, they may be far, but either way, forget what's behind. Because, like Lot's wife, you don't need to focus on where you've been, only where you're going."
I could take this idea in so many directions. Even the tattoo on my arm that says "Heavenbound"speaks to this concept. It's my daily reminder that I am constantly on a forward journey towards something better and greater. That all I need to do in life is what I did in this race: put one foot in front of the other. I enjoyed passing people, I won't lie. But it finally dawned on me that my competitive nature doesn't have to be rooted in pride. It can be a self motivator. Seeing the next person ahead as a goal to be reached instead of someone to beat helped me step up my walking game and get to where I wanted to be. As a result of that mental switch, every time I passed someone my attitude shifted from being intent to kill to spreading goodwill. When I caught up to someone, I cheered them on, talked to them for a bit, and then thanked them for motivating me. When it was time for me to physically move on, I was able to emotionally as well. My heart, full of gratitude for reaching my goal, was freed me up from worry about where they were behind me and I knew that I had passed them well. All I needed to do was keep looking forward and be content with where I was. And that anxious desire to look back faded away. And I am glad, because if I had looked back, I think it would have paralyzed me, leaving me mentally frozen in my own way, performing poorly during the race.
Each goal accomplished in life should happen in such a way for us as people. We see the goal, take the necessary steps toward it, accomplish it, thank it, and let it go. Sometimes it might be a real struggle to take that next step. For me, during the race, it was a struggle to believe that I could reach that next person, that next milestone. But man, when I got there the fight was worth it! Looking behind when we are called to move ahead does nothing for us. When we are called to move on, we gotta get moving and let go. We must look forward and not look back.
"...But this one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining forward to what is ahead, I press on toward the goal for which God in Christ Jesus has called me heavenward." :: Philippians 3:12-14 ::
This is what I learned on leg one of my Portland to Coast journey. Stay tuned for what I realized on my second leg, which was a completely different ball game since it happened at 3:00 a.m. in the morning. Yikes!