Taking the unexpected in your stride
Taking a step into the unknown with surprising results.
My post content
There are times when it feels like we are swept along in some strange narrative, where life’s events turn up on our doorstep like a parcel we haven’t ordered.
Most days the plot-line is relatively mundane. We get what we order.
But then there are these rogue parcels that turn up out of nowhere! Big ones that sit on the bench for a few days before we nervously peak inside.
It could sound fatalistic. But even with surprises we have choice. Though we might not feel like we have much control over some of the things that hit us, there’s always the part where we choose how we react.
I’m finding that’s the part that matters.
This time last year I wrote about unexpectedly realising a dream of winning my local fun run. This year I faced delayed repercussions of this.
People started asking me if I was going to ‘defend my title.’ A few ‘parcels’ containing expectation and pressure started appearing at my door.
At the same time, I was not in the same shape as I was last year.
This was primarily due to a couple of viruses that decided to attack. I’d been quite sick four out of the five weeks leading up to the run.
Actually, four different illnesses played havoc with my training and overall wellbeing over the past few months.
As a result, I left it until the day before the run to sign up.
Despite a few close to me questioning my sanity, I did, and found myself standing at the start line again. Not exactly there to defend any title. Just there. Coughing and spluttering.
I couldn’t control how I felt. And I couldn’t control who would be in that race with me. I looked around. A few fast looking people... but only about 100 competitors in total. A quiet year. Maybe I’d be good for fifth or sixth if things went well.
After a slight delay, we were abruptly started. And just like any other day, I started running. Only a little quicker than usual. It was a race after all.
As I ran through the first few hundred metres, another runner came up alongside me. He didn’t pull ahead. He just ran next to me.
And so we started talking.
My health was such that I wasn’t in a place to push myself too hard, but it turned out that the two of us emerged towards the front.
The two of us ended up running every step of the four lap, 21km course together. I didn’t look at my watch once, we just ran side-by-side. Two strangers slowly becoming friends.
It turned out that he’d recognised me from the year before. He thought I’d be a good person to stick with. He’d trained hard since then and was running well.
I was coughing badly, but it didn’t seem to put him off. When I eventually volunteered my name, he reached out and shook my hand.
This was not the race I had anticipated. I was doing much better than I expected, and it was much more social. It didn’t feel like a race. Yet we found ourselves leading.
The last lap we were quieter. Both straining slightly. And also, there was the unavoidable and fast approaching realisation that this was a race and only one of us could win.
I broke the silence up the last hill. “How do you want to do this?” I asked. “Will we sprint it out?” I guessed that his younger legs might be able to beat me over a short sprint to the line, but I felt I’d be able to break him up one of the hills.
I imagined myself switching gears and kicking ahead. But I didn’t.
I don’t quite know why I said what I did next, but somehow it felt like the most natural response to the situation we found ourselves in.
“We could cross the line together?” I posed.
He agreed. I checked again with a few hundred metres to go and we confirmed the plan. He suggested we hold hands across the line - to show our intention to finish as joint winners.
And so that’s what we did.
It was a very different kind of result to the year before. There was a part of me that still wanted to win on my own.
But another part of me felt I’d achieved that. I’d experienced winning and discovered that winning really isn’t everything.
The holding hands thing was a bit weird, but finishing together seemed appropriate. Like friendship and respect was worth more than a solo achievement.
But then came unexpected twist.
An official approached and told us that unfortunately they were unable to award joint winners. Dead heats weren’t allowed. One of us had to be declared the winner and the other the runner up.
The timing showed that my new friend finished a smidgen ahead of me. And that was it.
I was later announced as the second-finisher. I was given the prize for second place. The results showed me finishing behind.
I can sympathise with the officials. I hadn’t realised that we’d cause a problem. Probably best I was given second too, seeing I was the one to first suggest sharing the prize.
However, this was a curious ‘parcel’ to interpret.
I am not real sure what to think about it all. Mixed to be honest.
Originally, I’d looked to others to interpret what had happened. I waited to hear the analysis of the local paper. I wondered whether others would affirm the decision or call it foolish.
But then I realised that I am responsible for forming my own understanding about what took place. We can’t let others interpret our lives for us.
There was choice involved. For the circumstances beyond my control, I can only be grateful. It was a result far better than I’d anticipated. But in respect to the element of control I did have- the question lingered... had I made the most of the opportunity?
What does it mean that I was decided to finish together instead of being more aggressive in going for it? Did I fear losing? Did I feel compassion? In the past I think I would have gone for it. Is winning no longer so important to me?
Whatever the case, it will be another memory I’ll look back on. And one that will play role in forming who I’m becoming.
The way I interpret the situation will decide if it has a positive or negative impact. I’m still deciding how, but I know it’s important to mark events like this in some way.
Telling the story is part of that.
Thanks for following along. We could call this chapter 103.
I’m discovering that mine is a story in which I’m not the sole author. Maybe not even the primary one. But I do have input.
It’s chapters like the one above that help me remember that I’m not the only character in the story. And not the most important one.
It was my new friend’s first win. He said he trained alone and I invited him to join our running group. He spoke of goals that far exceeded my own. I’m interested to see if this has an impact on his story.
Sometimes the parcels on our doorstep might not be intended for us, but for someone else.
Whatever the case, I’m glad I turned up on Sunday. There were reasons why I didn’t feel like it, but I would have missed out if I’d stayed home. That was the win.
Checking inside the ominous looking parcel was a good idea... I wasn’t quite sure what to do with what was inside, but I stepped forward. A misstep or not, it’s an experience I’ll learn from.