My answer: Accepting my limitations and giving myself a break (aka grace) when I reach them. Also, knowing what feeds my soul and keeping it well fed.
The story: It's been a dream of mine for years.
To do an adventure race.
I'm married to Superman, as my kids like to call him, and over our 25 years he's accumulated enough tee shirts to fill a few dresser drawers. The kind that come from 10k's, triathlons, a marathon, 100 mile mountain bike races, and some "Tough Mudders" for good measure.
In the beginning, I ran a few 10k's with him and over the years signed up for a few more (that I didn't run . . but I got the tee shirt ;)
I don't have the inner drive and the seeming delight in pain from pushing yourself to your limits that my husband possesses. But when I started mountain biking with one of the wives from the adventure racing team Jeff was on a few years back, I actually enjoyed it!
So last summer when out of the blue my mountain biking friend invited me to join her and her daughter in an all woman's adventure race, in a moment of dreamy delusion, I said sure and signed up. It's a good thing I signed up with her. Even the hefty entrance fee would not have been enough to keep me committed up until race day.
It was only knowing that she was counting on me that helped me overcome my fears and drive out there on that cold, foggy fall day.
We weren't five minutes in to the initial mile and a half run when my legs were on fire, and I'm asking myself "HOW in the WORLD will I EVER finish this?!"
Immediately, I recognized the reality . . "I better slow down."
I realized how important it was going to be to pace myself. To recognize and respect my body's limitations if I wanted it to continue to deliver for me.
Even to stop and rest.
There was no shame in this. No angst about it. It was simply practical.
I had four to six hours ahead of me of trekking up and down mountains, paddling back and forth and back and forth and (yet again) back and forth across a lake, and mountain biking up and down some more mountains to the finish. On top of all this, me and my GPS dependent friend were navigating with a compass and topographical map through a state park.
Not only did I need to slow down, but I needed to pay attention.
So up and down the mountains we went, back and forth across the lake, hopped on our bikes and rode and rode and rode.
We took wrong turns, we got lost, we laughed when we felt like crying.
And we realized not far into this race that we had already won.
WE WERE DOING IT!
We had no ambitions of finishing anywhere near the top. Our goal was simply to finish.
In the end we did finish, and the delight and satisfaction I felt as I ate six pieces of pizza and three well-earned cupcakes went beyond almost any I've known.
With the help of a friend, I'd faced fear, overcome it, got out there and had a wonderful time!
We made a lot of mistakes.
We climbed almost to the top of a mountain. Thought we'd gone the wrong way. Went back down and walked a quarter mile along the base and climbed again. Only to discover that our first climb had taken us just a few hundred yards away from our checkpoint.
We backtracked. We fell down. There were many times along the way when I literally felt I could go no farther.
Paddling back and forth across the lake I became acutely aware of how little strength resided in my shoulders and arms. Only half way across the first time they felt like rubber, and I asked myself again, "How will I keep going?"
And we laughed and joked and somehow in the camaraderie and excitement I found strength and my arms kept rowing.
At one point while biking, every single revolution was a concerted act of my will.
It was hard.
Acknowledging, accepting, and respecting my body's limitations, in a word GRACE, is what enabled me to keep moving forward.
As I walk step by step toward other dreams, less physical, nevertheless just as challenging, I have Superwoman days when my mood is high, my mind is sharp, and I make huge gains.
And there are days when I'm tired and I doubt and I can't make a decision to save my life. Life won't cooperate. On those days, it seems my knee-jerk response is to give in and give up.
But I'm learning . .
whether I'm moving forward full force, laboriously mustering up all the faith I have to take one small step, or even setting my dream down for a bit to rest, as long as I stay in the game . .
I learned this, at least, by my experiment:
that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams,
and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined,
he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.