Finding Your Center and Where You Fit In Is a Blessing in Racing, Life and Business.

For those of you that follow this blog, Lessons from the Road, you know I write about life lessons I learn while running and how those lessons relate to business. Earlier this year, I wrote a blog talking about my transition and the struggles that I experienced after moving to Kansas City to care for my father after my mom passed away. (If you missed that blog, you can find it here: https://abelpr.wordpress.com/2016/03/13/life-and-business-are-a-journeyyou-dont-always-know-what-lies-ahead/ (Many that read Life and Business Are a Journey said I should warn you that you will most likely need a tissue. You’ve been warned.) This blog picks up where that blog left off.

To give you some background, prior to moving to Kansas City, I spent 25 glorious years in Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky. I knew exactly who I was there. I was the owner of several thriving small businesses. I was the “parent” to two healthy cats. I was surrounded by the love and support of amazing friends and neighbors every day. I was inspired and challenged to be the best I could be by my clients. And last, but not least, I was a runner. These things centered me. They were the core of my soul. I lost my center when I moved to Prairie Village, Kansas where my father lives and I grew up.

My experience in Prairie Village and Johnson County (the county where Prairie Village is located) was the opposite of my experience in Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky. I found the people in Prairie Village and Johnson County cold and unwelcoming. Making friends, something that had always been easy for me in every other city I’d lived in as an adult, was nearly impossible. I felt isolated…something I’d never felt before. It was disconcerting. But sometimes in our discomfort, we find the silver lining. This blog is about that silver lining and the incredible journey and learning I experienced this year.

When I lived in Cincinnati, I wanted to qualify for three running groups called the Half Fanatics, Marathon Maniacs and Double Agents. Qualifying for these three groups had been on my dream list for many years. These groups don’t focus on how fast you run. They focus on your endurance…lots of races in short periods of time. I always tell people I’m built for endurance, not for speed. So this goal was realistic for me. However, this is a goal that takes a lot of time and training. In Cincinnati, I put it off. I didn’t want to take time away from my friends and busy social life to do the training and racing needed to qualify for these groups.

But in Kansas City, I didn’t have that issue. So, in November, 2015, I created a training and racing plan that would help me qualify for all three groups in 2016. I ran 24 races in 2016…most of them were half and full marathons. To put that in perspective, I averaged seven to nine races a year in Cincinnati. In the spring, I qualified for the Half Fanatics by running four half marathons in 37 days. In the fall I qualified for the Marathon Maniacs and Double Agents by running three full marathons and three half marathons in 60 days. Basically, I was racing most weekends and training constantly when I wasn’t working. It was relaxing and rejuvenating to be working toward such a big, long-time goal. But during this endeavor, I achieved something far greater…I found my center and sense of self again in a city where I have never felt at home, even when I was a kid growing up there. And that journey was one of the most joyful ones of my life. Here’s how it transpired:

I went home (or what I consider my home) to Cincinnati to kick off my Marathon Maniac and Double Agent qualification process. The race was a half marathon I’d done several times before when I lived in Cincinnati. It poured the entire time, but it was a summer downpour, so it actually felt nice because it was so hot and humid that day. I met some friendly people on the course and had a good time in spite of the less than ideal weather conditions. To me, that’s part of racing. You take what Mother Nature gives you and you suck it up. Racing is a metaphor for life…you take what life gives you, and you suck it up.

In September, I ran the Patriots’ Run, the first of the three qualifying marathons. I met a couple of Marathon Maniacs prior to the race and learned a lot! I learned about other races I’d like to run in the future, and I learned a great deal about the race I was about to run. They were so friendly and welcoming. They were also from out of town. Patriots’ Run is a unique race because it’s a one mile loop. It starts at noon and ends at 9:11pm because it is a race on September 11th to honor those that died and served on September 11th. For some, a race like this is intimidating or unappealing. The heat can be daunting. The tedious course can be a huge deterrent to many. For me, neither was a factor that would prevent me from running it. I loved seeing the same people over and over again as we cheered each other on to the finish of either the marathon (26 laps) or the ultra marathon which consisted of running as many laps as possible in nine hours and eleven minutes. During the last eight miles, I caught up with one of the Marathon Maniacs I’d met prior to the race. Thomas was my saving grace. I was starting to slow down from the heat, and it was nice to have a running buddy for those final eight miles. We talked about life and our families, and we talked about how he qualified for the Maniacs and my goal of doing so in the coming 60 days. As we talked, I found out he was running the Des Moines marathon which would be my final qualifying race for both the Marathon Maniacs and Double Agents. He shared a lot of great information that only someone that had run the race before would know. At the end of the race, I was greeted by my dear friend, Mel, the only close friend I’ve made since I moved to Kansas City. She had run the 5k earlier that afternoon, gone home to clean up and came back with her lap top so she could work while I completed the last few miles of my journey. She cheered Thomas and me on for the last 4 laps, and she was waiting at the finish line with a high 5 and a cold protein shake. Flanked by two wonderful, supportive people, it reminded me of my days back home in Cincinnati. It was joyful.

In October, I was at church and a woman came running up to me and said, “Pastor says you’re a runner, and I need to meet you!” I had never met Alicia before because I go to the early service and she and her family go to the late service. As we talked, we realized we were running the same marathon, Prairie Fire, the following weekend in Wichita. She had only run two marathons and one of them was Prairie Fire which was in her home town. She was looking to beat her fastest time and asked if I would pace her. I told her I would. For 26.2 miles we talked about everything you can imagine…family, work, life and our experiences with the Johnson County culture. It was girl bonding at its best! She was a fabulous tour guide on the course, pointing out all kinds of things only locals would know. It was great. While she served as the docent, I focused on our pace and making sure she achieved her goal. She did. And it was so great to share that moment with her. Her parents were at the finish line to greet us and congratulate us. It was heart-warming. I was beaming with joy and pride for my new friend.
A week later, I would run my final qualifying marathon in Des Moines. Two of my dearest running friends, Pam and Tony, had signed up for that race too. We met many years ago at the Flying Pig Marathon in Cincinnati through the Runner’s World Challenge. We ran that race together and ran many more races together after that. They knew how important this race was to me. It was great to have them there for support even though we wouldn’t be running together because they are much faster than I am, and I was taking this race at a much slower pace than usual due to running a marathon the previous week. One of the other benefits of Des Moines was it happened to be the reunion race for the Half Fanatics and Marathon Maniacs. Because I was a Half Fanatic, I was able to attend the reunion meeting. My new friend, Thomas, was there and we sat together and caught up on running and racing. During the reunion meeting I felt welcome and centered. I was surrounded by people that love running as much as I do. Many had run marathons or half marathons (or both) in all 50 states! I was surrounded by kindred spirits…it was like a family reunion where you liked everyone in the room. I felt at home and centered.

The day after the reunion was race day. Pam and Tony met me at my hotel and we walked to the start line together. We wished each other well, knowing they’d finish long before I would. The race began and I was off to achieve my big goal. After the pack of runners spread out, I settled into a comfortable pace. My body felt beat up all week from the marathon in Wichita, but that morning, it was feeling fabulous. I was grateful for that and being able to run my usual pace from previous years…for however long it lasted. As I found my comfortable pace, I ended up in a pace group with a bunch of very friendly runners. It was great to talk and run. I have not found the runners at races in Kansas City to be friendly. What I was feeling at Des Moines felt like home. It was like running with my running partner or my running group friends. It was similar to the comradery I was used to at races in Cincinnati, where we knew no strangers and everyone we met on the course was family. It was joyful. At mile 17, I couldn’t keep the same pace and dropped back from the group. Not long after that, I heard a familiar voice. It was Thomas. Once again in the final miles of this race, we were running the same pace. It felt good to run with a buddy and it made the miles go faster. We picked up a couple Marathon Maniacs during our final miles and we all had great conversation and a wonderful time on our journey to the finish line. As we turned the corner for the final mile, Tony and Pam were waiting to run me in like they’d done the previous year when we ran the Kansas City marathon. At the finish line, once again, I was surrounded by friends and lots of support. We all walked to the Marathon Maniac booth so I could have my photo taken with the sign that said I’d just qualified for the Marathon Maniacs and Double Agents. I was beaming! My long-time goal had been achieved. But the most rewarding part of the process was the journey itself…the people I met, the friends I made and the things I learned.

So what does this story have to do with business?
Just like in racing and life, in business we often have to redefine who we are and find a new comfort zone. At one point in our personal or business life we may feel at peace with ourselves and our work environment. Then one day or over a period of time, that can all change and we find ourselves isolated and off center My advice to you, if you experience this, is to be like a true endurance athlete… keep going and don’t stop moving forward. Often in life and in business, we don’t fit into certain situations, social groups, community cultures or careers. The key is to keep looking for a place and people that feel like home in our personal lives and our work lives. Home is where your heart is, and that’s not always where you currently reside personally or professionally. Remember while you search for what feels like home, keep your eyes and hearts open to new challenges, wonderful new people and better days ahead.
Wishing you a healthy, happy 2017 and a joyful journey to find who and what centers you.

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