Measuring Success April 28 2016 1 Comment

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines the word ‘success’ as: “The fact of getting or achieving wealth, respect or fame”. But I think that word can have a much more personal meaning.

I asked around.  Some considered themselves successful because they were “a good parent”, “a good friend”, or “a good citizen throughout life”.  When I asked my dad his meaning of success, he said with certainty, “Contentment”; my mom and Chris both gave a more general statement of, “Success is achieving what you set out to do”.   

I contemplated all of these ideas, and my own, while running my 20th full marathon this past May 1.  Trust me when I say I had plenty of time to think.

This race was special for a lot of reasons.  It was my 10th Anniversary of not only racing, but racing for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training.  I had begun a decade before – at this very same New Jersey Marathon, 10 years and 1 day before – to help “cure” my friend Marybeth who was bravely battling cancer.  I couldn’t go through rounds of radiation and chemotherapy for her, nor could I ease the pain and suffering that she, her husband Jamie and son Corey were facing, but I could do something, and that “something” was to complete a marathon and raise $2500 for cancer research and remedy.

Ten years ago, I deemed it a success that I finished that first 26.2 unscathed and smiling.  A few years later, success was that Marybeth was cancer-free.  And as I continued racing, raising money and now training others to do the same, we were helping fund innovative research that was helping bring patients back from the brink of death.

But, ten years later, a lot was riding on this day.  In the end, what would have to happen to have it be considered a success?

When I registered for the race with Team in Training, 10 months earlier, I wrote down my four goals:

  • Raise $10,000 in commemoration of my 10th year with the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society
  • Finish my 20th Full Marathon…
  • …with a Personal Best time
  • Celebrate every step and HAVE FUN!

Well, going to the starting line, on the chilling, raining morning of May 1, I knew I had not merely met, but surpassed my #1 goal.  I raised more than $12,000 for a cancer cure for that race alone, bringing my ten-year total to nearly $27,000! 

When I hit the magical $10K mark with less than one month to go, I began joking, “I made it, so all I have to do is run the thing!”  And now that moment was here… and I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was pretty scared.

I was not worried that I wouldn’t finish – after all, I had done 19 Full Marathons before.  But a Personal Best time AND stops for hugs and high-fives?   On that, I was not sure.

When I began training for this race, my coach Greg said I could choose one or the other – run my best race or enjoy myself.  I said, assuredly, that I wanted both, but I was not sure I could actually do both.  Would I be a success if I failed?

When my corral was let loose onto the course, I understandably had a lot on my mind.  I stayed close to the pacers carrying the finishing time I was hoping to hit and, with each step, my worries got farther and farther behind me.  Without realizing it, I was achieving my fourth goal – to “have fun”. 

I looked less at my pace watch and more at the cheering crowds.  I stopped to take photos with my youngest nieces, Maggie and Emma, who endured hours in the wind and rain to scream, “Go Auntie Go!”  I hugged my parents and Chris, who had ridden his bicycle to the course in case I needed alongside support. 

I high-fived every kid and each of my fellow TNT coaches that took a moment to share in my journey.  And, with one mile to go, I held on tight to my friend Bob, who was my TEAMmate during the 2013 Boston Marathon when our race was cut short by the terrorist attacks – he and his wife Mary drove hours to stand at mile 25 near where we both had been stopped in Boston.

One mile later, with wonderful friends in tow and my loved ones cheering on the sidelines, I finished – having shaved 14 minutes off my previous Personal Best time.  I had succeeded at everything I set out to do that day.  More importantly, I realized that success was not just finishing my best race, with a smiling face and my fundraising met.  Success was being willing to put myself to the test in the first place – setting goals and allowing myself to attempt reaching them while risking failure.

I guess that answers my question.