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Sunday was the Stowe 8-Miler, a road race I have done probably 10 times over the past 20 years. It is a great race with a beautiful course. It isn’t flat, but it is relatively so by Vermont standards: the uphills are short and steep, and the downhills are long and gentle.

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Just getting started.

I had a goal to run 9-minute miles. As someone who had accepted that 12-minute miles had become a fact of life less than a year ago, it seemed like a lofty ambition. Last time I did this race in 2010, I ran 1:26:43, nearly two minutes slower per mile.

Ready to race!

-Feeling ready to run!

As I passed a few women that I knew out on the course — athletic, younger, capable of much faster times than me — we said a friendly hello and I kept moving forward, keeping my mind on my goal. As I strode away from them, I overheard “no, I don’t really care about my time.” There are a lot of people — probably most — who run this race at a comfortable pace just to finish it. It is scenic, it’s a great destination, and there is free beer after. There is nothing wrong with that!

But I had a goal in mind and knew I would have to dig deep to achieve it. It is interesting to “race” when you have no hope of truly competing in a field of talented, ambitious, committed athletes. Why push myself so hard, turn myself inside out, to put in what is – in the truest sense of the word – an average performance?

For me, it is to test myself, and to build confidence. I suspect I have a deep-seated fear of failure. It took me a long time to recognize it, and I doubt I’ll ever truly be free of it. But by setting goals that seem unattainable, and then achieving them, perhaps I am slowly pushing aside the doubts about whether I am good enough to dream big in other parts of my life.

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H and me celebrating after the race.

It wasn’t easy… the first four miles felt great, followed by the last four of having to push myself every step of the way to keep up the pace. It has been years since I have pushed myself in a longer race like this, and it takes just as much strength mentally as it does physically. In the last two minutes, grinding up the hill toward the finish, two fit, young girls passed me, and one said to the other “this is the time to put everything you have into it.” So I did.

What the girl at the end said really resonated with me, in a way that goes beyond a simple running race. In that brief moment, I took it as an analogy for life. You get out of things what you put into them, and keeping up the effort is as much a mind game as anything else. Fear of failure should never be a reason not to try.

Ultimately, all the hard work paid off. I ran 1:11:31… just about 30 seconds faster than my goal of 1:12.

In true average-runner fashion, I headed straight to the beer tent after, and snagged the kids some ice cream while I had a well-earned beer with Daddo and some friends.

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To sum it up: it was great, I am really happy with the result (the tangible AND the intangible), and holy cr*p, I am super sore today!

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