This week, Shalane Flanagan set a new American record in the 10K road race. The record was set 25 years ago by one of my sheroes, Lynn Jennings. I’d like to share a story about Lynn and me, and the day I ran the best race of my life.
In April 1991 I was 21-years-old and on the starting line of the Penn Relays 10K race in Philadelphia, PA. This was my senior year at Penn State University and my last time competing in the relays. I was ready. I had trained. I had eaten right. Now, all I needed to do was run 25 times around the track as fast as I could!
The gun went off, and Lynn Jennings pulled ahead of the pack. I settled into my own pace, confident, relaxed, and enjoying the experience. All of the women were jostling for position, and I found myself in a pack (photo above) where I felt comfortable.
At mile 5, I found myself in front of my pack, breathing hard, but maintaining an even pace. I heard my coach calling my name and encouraging me to dig deep. Coming around the corner toward the lap counters, the crowd started cheering wildly. I could hear Lynn’s footsteps from behind. I picked up my pace. As we crossed the line together, she had won. I, on the other hand, had 3 more laps to go!
After that burst of adrenaline, I picked up my pace for those last 3 laps. I had crossed the line with an American Record Holder! My pack and I ran with our hearts for the last few meters of our race. As I crossed the finish line, I could see the clock. 36:33 – a 5:53 pace per mile and my personal best! I turned around to hug and congratulate the woman behind me. With tears running down her face, she thanked me for keeping the pace. We both had run personal bests!
So why do I tell you this story? No, it’s not to brag about my awesome 21-year-old self. It’s to share with you what I learned that day.
Run your own pace in running and in life. There are going to be people ahead (even lapping you!) and behind you. That doesn’t matter. Focus on your pace, your breathing, your footsteps.
When we focus on our own pace and don’t waste our valuable energy comparing ourselves to others, shoulding on ourselves, and trying to run a pace that is not our own, we end up not only doing our best, but we help others along the way. By being relaxed and settling into our pace, we allow and inspire others to find their stride.
So, I challenge you this week, when you come upon a difficult task, relax, breathe, find your pace, and do your thing. You’ve got this!