The undeniable truth? We are born, live and die losing. Yes, I could have stated it more gently, but that is the truth…we lose. We lose physical competitions, we lose spelling bees, we lose debates, we lose business deals, we lose out on accomplishing goals, we lose at relationships, heck, just about everyone I know loses their way at times (metaphysically as well as literally). We are either in the process of losing or about to. Does that mean that you will never win? For some, honestly, yes—some people will never win. A burden in their life is to always be one step too slow, one point short, one prototype not built, one proposal rejected…a life of almost. Is this being a loser?
Of the hundreds of foot races I have run, I have only won once. One. What a horrible record of results! I have spent an almost infinite amount of time, energy and money training for and competing only to limp away with one win, and the realization that winning will probably never ever happen again.
Why train so dang hard only to know that you will almost assuredly not win? Why study so long only to know that an “A” is beyond your grasp and that there is always going to be someone smarter? Why go on a hike if you realize that there is a very good chance that you will (unintentionally) get lost? Why get into a relationship if it is inevitable that at some point you will either let the other person down or they will you?
The answer to me is that there is a HUGE difference between losing and being a loser. The former is a result, while the latter is a state of being. You would think that you could look at the former to find the latter—but you couldn’t be farther from the truth. There are more winners in the back of the pack than there are in the front… infinitely more.
There was a runner I knew that epitomised this philosophy. Bruce was overweight…the kind of overweight that you know makes it hard to run carrying that much weight. Though he never considered himself a runner, Bruce had a goal in mind…he wanted to complete an ultra-marathon; this from a guy who had never completed a 5k. Yet, nothing was going to stop him from accomplishing his goal…not his weight, not ever being a runner before, not the pain of doing the miles…not injury…nothing. He trained his butt off. He ran, walked and/or worked out most days. There was no quit in him. 5km runs were accomplished, 10km runs became routine…but never easy. He completed a 25km run and knew he was getting close. The day of his race came. When you looked in his eyes—there was never any doubt.
Any doubt of what? Winning? Bruce was never going to come in first…he knew that and so did everyone else running that race. Some looked at him and thought that there was a high probability that he would not finish—but that thought didn’t occur to Bruce. The likelihood of him not finishing was minuscule because Bruce knew something that others rarely consider. The greatest competitor is not a watch, a scoreboard, a scale or another competitor—it is yourself. He knew he could win against the true field. He knew that he was not a loser but a warrior. That day…hours…many hours after most had finished, Bruce finished his first 50k. That was the same day that I won my one and only race and you know, I can’t remember much of anything about my race that day.
There is no picture of me crossing the finish line, I can’t remember the time I finished in, and can’t tell you with any confidence when the race was. However, what I can remember is jogging about a half mile with Bruce at the end of both of our races. I can remember the hours of effort and struggle that showed on his face, the salt stains that embroidered his shirt, and his —our— laboured breathing. What sticks out most about that day is seeing the determination and realization on his face that acknowledged that he knew that he was only a couple of miles away from winning his race, and the incredible feeling of accomplishment when he crossed the line. My day’s accomplishment faded from my memory several years ago, but I will never forget Bruce and his run that day. To me, he epitomizes a winner—always has—always will.
My wife Eva has probably run a dozen 100-mile races. I believe I am accurate in stating that she has DNF’d (Did Not Finish) more 100-mile races than she has finished. Given that mere statement, that she has not finished most of her 100-mile races, she must somehow be a quitter. Go ahead and tell HER that—and I will sit back and laugh as you get you’re a$$ kicked! The truth is that some days you are the windshield and some days you are the bug. What’s the old saying, “Sh!t happens.” The truth is that she has NEVER quit without being drug off the course with an injury…like going to see the ortho doc and having major reconstructive ankle surgery kind of drug off the course.
There is one 100 miler that “had her number.” It is one DAMN…HOT…race. Kansas in July, 100+ degrees, no shade, hotter than heck asphalt that melts your heart and your shoes kinda hot. And the race is in the middle of nowhere Kansas, on one big, 100 mile long, look at nothing, boring loop. That race has kicked her butt more times than not. Last year she wanted to give it one final go and see what she could do. She trained hard for months. She was well prepared come race day. She started smart and strong, but after 20-30 miles, you just saw that things weren’t going great. No matter what we tried, she just couldn’t find a good “gear” or pace. With less than 50 miles completed, it looked like the race was gonna’ brand her with another sun-burned DNF. The course tried to tell her she was a loser, but it forgot who it was talking to.
Mile by mile, Eva kept moving. Some miles she got her “jog on”; some miles were struggles to walk. But always there was Relentless Forward progress. She ran and walked through the tepid evening hours and by the time morning had come, we found out that she was the last woman standing—every single other woman as well as several men, had succumbed to the blistering heat and stale air. All she had to do was finish and she would win…not finish, but win. Though the news inspired her, there were still over 20 miles remaining. This race was hers…her race would end when she decided it was over…and not a second sooner or a yard less.
That day Eva won her first 100-mile race. She did the unthinkable, the un-heard of…the trifecta of results…she was the first (and only) female finisher…she finished in the top 10 of all runners, and…she was DFL—Dead F’n Last (never heard of that accomplishment before or since)! Of all of those accolades, the most important is that she won the most brutal race against her most difficult competitor—herself. She decided to finish because finishing was more important than anything else—the first-place award was just added gravy.
The win-loss columns don’t matter—the mirror does. Bruce and Eva are able to look at themselves dead straight in a mirror and know that they gave their all. They see what others do not—the inner indomitable competitor. I could give a hoot about having a bunch of “winners” on my team—give me a team full of those that have lost race after race after race, but win every day because they live an ethos of “excellence of effort.” They try without ceasing. Those individuals…they can conquer and accomplish anything…individually and collectively.
Anyone ever gives you grief for losing after you have given something your all—your last ounce of effort, then you give me a holler and join my team. Team Grit may not be pretty, fast or fancy, but we dang sure will “get’r done.” It is rare that it is singularly your choice to win or lose an event, but it is ONLY your choice to be a loser. Be a winner…always.