As I held the last puzzle piece in my hand, the final 1,000th, I expected to feel triumphant. I had spent hours in COVID-19 quarantine, concentrating and sorting with my neck bent over the Sweet Paris Bakeshop. The perplexing plethora of polka dots, swirls of pink frosting and countless fluffs of merengue, had dominated my mind and kitchen counter over the last week. But where was my sense of accomplishment? My exuberance of completion? Unceremoniously, I added the piece, completed the scene, and moved on with my day.
This is not a new sensation for me. The expectation of elation or pride when a goal has been accomplished, followed by a hollowness – an overwhelming sense of ordinary.
My first half marathon after my injury I was anticipating a dramatic emotional finish. I had exceeded the expectations of my doctor and physical therapist. I was running a race that nobody thought would be possible one year before. I had committed to months of training. I pushed through the pain and discomfort in my right ankle. I gritted through the throbbing ache that was now a constant companion in my left hip, a result of subconsciously compensating for my injury.
My four kids and husband waited for me at the finish line. I imagined their smiling faces and supportive cheers energizing my final strides. But at mile 4, I was caught off-guard with intense emotion. I was overcome with happiness and gratitude that I was able to run again and reclaim my pre-injury lifestyle. The metal plates and hardware in my ankle were not going to limit me. A sense of pride swelled inside me that I was showing my kids what it means to persevere. I wanted them to know that if they put their hearts and minds to something, they too could accomplish the unexpected. I choked back the tears and told myself to just make it to the end. I gave myself permission to fall apart when the race was done. When the goal was completed. When I had finished.
So, I soldiered on. Through the ebbs and flows of any long-distance race. Some miles feel like they pass in a blink and others feel like every step is agony. Miles 8-10 were my best. My feet were light and airy. I was energized and confident. I felt like I could run forever.
Then mile 11 turned into mile 12 and doubt crept in. My legs turned heavy and I felt like I was moving through jello. I didn’t know how I was going to make it. I walked a few yards, then restarted. I walked a few more yards. And restarted. I proceeded in this disjointed fashion for about a half mile. As I got closer and closer to the finish I thought of my family. I wanted to make them proud. I found a way to focus, to pick up my legs and start moving again. When they saw me, I didn’t want to be walking, I wanted to be running.
The crowd lining the streets cheering the runners became more concentrated, and the runners’ path narrowed. The energy from the crowd was invigorating. Finally, I heard my name and saw my family. Their enthusiastic shouts were exactly as I had imagined. I waved and gave them a thumbs up as I pushed through to the finish line, willing myself to finish strong.
I made it. I completed the race. I powered through to the end. My ankle did not fail me. I did it. As I accepted my medal, I anticipated a tightening in my chest and tears to well up in my eyes.
But, surprisingly, nothing.
As I continued walking through the post-race mayhem, I was doing everything in my power to conjure up the passioned response I had suppressed at mile 4. Here is your chance, Shannon. Let it flow.
Nope. Nothing. Nada. Zilch.
I met up with my family and received their congratulatory hugs and words of praise. I was exhausted and happy, but overall, the moment was pretty, I don’t know, what’s the word I’m looking for? Uh, ordinary.
Then we walked to the car and took my daughter to her soccer practice.
It begs the question in my mind, how important is the finish line?
Prior to my race my therapist was congratulating me on my training effort and said “Shannon, you’ve already won by just showing up. Whatever happens after you make it to the start line is a bonus.” I looked at him as if he grew a third eyeball in the middle of his head.
“Uh, no” I scoffed. “Absolutely not. If I don’t finish, it’s like I didn’t race. I have a goal, and if I don’t meet my goal, I have failed.”
“But you’ve put in all the work. You’ve done the training. That is what matters. You show up, you’ve already won.” he challenged.
Incredulous and unwavering in my position, I redirected the conversation to another topic. I would not be deterred. I had a job to do. Period. I had decided I would run this race, and that meant finishing the race.
When running or hiking hills, I have always promised myself the reward of looking at the view when I get to the top. I push through, blinders on, until I reach the peak. Only then, do I allow myself a moment to stop and take in what is around me.
My world, my entire existence, has been centered on the goal. On the finish line. On getting to the peak. On that moment.
But lately I have begun to ask myself, what have I missed on the journey to get there?
I have a friend who recently celebrated one year of sobriety. After some heartbreaking moments with her family over the years as she struggled to get her addiction under control, this anniversary was an amazing accomplishment fueled by love for her family and her desire to reclaim herself. But when I asked her how she felt on that significant milestone, she said “it was just like any ordinary day.”
Ordinary. The months and days leading up to that anniversary were certainly not ordinary. They were filled with struggle, and longing, and celebration, and anger, and loss, and relief. The day might have been ordinary, but the journey was monumental.
Begrudgingly, I may have to acknowledge the wisdom of my therapist. It’s not about the finish line. The finish line is merely a catalyst to the experience.
The moment of completion is just any other moment. It is here, then it is gone. It comes, then it goes. These moments are certainly important, celebratory, and oftentimes defining. But I’m learning that the millions of moments that lead up to that point are just as significant. The 999 pieces lay the foundation for the 1,000th. Transformation occurs through 364 days of sacrifice and bargaining and ultimately triumph to achieve 1 year of sobriety. Strength and stamina is built through the hundreds of thousands of pounding steps taken to prepare for the finish line. The emotions at mile 4 are no less powerful than what they may be at mile 13.
For fun, a friend and I have decided to walk to San Clemente pier this weekend. That is about 20 miles. Will we make it? I certainly hope so! But more importantly, I am super excited for the journey itself and how much fun we are going to have along the way.