It’s no secret that I like unicorns, and it’s also no secret that they are mythical creatures. According to legend, unicorns could fly, possessed incredible healing power in their horn and were immortal. This past weekend a unicorn gave me hope. Sometimes, trying to make change in our lives seems so dramatic and so far away that real change, change that is actually sustainable, can seem as far off and whimsical as the thought of unicorns.
Over the past two months I, a recovering perfectionist, have been making concerted efforts in my own personal development to “pursue the grey in life” and to pursue “excellence” over “perfection.” I have certainly seen progression and growth as I have intentionally worked on challenging my mindset, but this past weekend I saw what I would never have expected: those lessons lived out in a real life capacity. Seeing these changes manifested in real life for me seemed so far off, like the thought of a unicorn.
Running my first post-baby marathon was exciting. It had given me excellent motivation and structure for training during the first few months of my little baby Ellie’s life and it helped me feel like myself as I clumsily and emotionally navigated the new world of motherhood. I trained hard under the guidance of my amazing coaches Meghan and Kelly Fillnow (www.fillnowcoaching.com); I was excited to race and determined to qualify for the Boston Marathon.
At the Chasing the Unicorn Marathon in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, a race geared towards runners literally chasing the unicorn symbol of the Boston Marathon, I found my own unicorn. The unicorn I met was a mindset shift I never really believed I could embrace: a mindset of grace and balance…the mindset of pursing excellence instead of pursuing perfection. Allow me to explain.
An August race, it was a hot day. The sun became stronger and stronger. The course was an out-and-back loop on a canal trail to be completed twice. The small path was boarded on one side by a serene canal and the other by expansive farmlands pocketed around curves of the Delaware River. I embraced the heat and the beauty of the course on the first half of the race. As a new mom so often exiled to the shade because of Ellie, I’m always eager to embrace the sunshine. I’m happy to have it hug my skin.
I paced well. My goal was to hold 7:40 minute-miles and I was feeling comfortable at a 7:25, and, against my better judgment I continued to pick up the pace with each mile that passed. Excitedly, I thought about how awesome it would be to have a PR on my first post-partum marathon. The thrill of proving my post-baby fitness level with an unexpected best time spurred me on for the next few miles.
And then mile eighteen hit. My legs went heavy on me, and not just heavy, they went deadweight. Fire burned in my glutes and my hamstrings started separating themselves individually, seemingly peeling off of my body. In the running world I hit what is dreadfully referred to as the wall. The wall hurts. It makes you swear that you will never run again. It tempts your mind to enter a world of expletives and negativity. It suspends your physical pain in time and reverts time into slow motion so that the race begins to feel like it will never end. The wall can be overwhelming; much like any moment in life when it all seems like too much and like forward momentum, or the promise of change, is frozen.
My thoughts betrayed me. Trying to cling tightly to my pre-determined positive mantras I had created for the race, intended for moments just like the darkness of the wall, I struggled. The more my mind wrestled with the daunting challenge of enduring what was becoming unbearable pain, the further away the finish line began to feel. I crept along the canal path, each tenth of mile I completed making me feel like I was chasing a moving finish line.
The next sequence of miles felt like running purgatory. I fought to fight to the finish. My body began overheating from the sun and humidity. I considered walking the last six miles, and then when the coursing lactic acid in my legs gave signs of the oncoming of Charlie Horse cramps, I began preparing myself to crawl. Somehow though, against the recommendations of the negative thoughts in my mind, my body kept itself moving. Worse than how my body felt is how my mind felt: overwhelmed, defeated, and disappointed. As I pondered those emotions and pathetically celebrated each tiny step my body was moving itself forward, the unicorn appeared.
She met me on that hot canal path at mile twenty-three. It was an unexpected moment of complete turn-around. The unicorn certainly didn’t make my pain go away, but she did knock down the mental and physical wall I had just spent the last four miles battling. My thoughts turned around. Hope filled my heart. I began to enjoy running again – I retracted all of the previous personal promises to never run again I had been muttering under my breath. I was encouraged. The finish line was still twenty-five minutes away, but for the first time in the past thirty minutes I believed I could make it. I knew I had fallen off pace to finish with a best time, but something about my mental battle made this race all the more special. I decided that it wasn’t going to be my finishing time that made this race something I was proud of, it was what I did with the circumstances and challenges with which I was presented. That decision for me represented the difference between pursuing excellence and perfection / optimal performance. I went from being ashamed of myself – frustrated at my body and my negativity as I climbed the metaphorical wall – to being proud of being a victorious overcomer. My run-in with the unicorn wasn’t just a serendipitous way to complete the marathon. It was more than that: it represented a lived-out change in mindset.
The last three miles are a blur. All I know is that my feet kept stepping out in front of one another and that eventually I crossed the finish line and collapsed. My husband, holding our beautiful six-month old Ellie, embraced me for a big, sweaty family hug. My time read 3:25:36. I had finished ten minutes underneath my qualifying time, as the sixth overall female finisher and second in my age group (18-34).
It was not my best time.
It was not my best race.
But it was my best time and my best race that day.
More than that, it was a race that challenged me in a way I most needed: it was an opportunity to chase excellence instead of perfection.
The unicorn I met was a unicorn named positive change. She showed me that change does happen, that the work we put into training our minds does work and that sometimes it takes seemingly impossible challenges to activate visible growth for ourselves so we can finally see just how far we have come. The unicorn taught me that my old mindset matters no more. She unveiled to me that I am a new Trish with a new mindset of pursuing excellence, not perfection. Overcoming perfectionism and pursuing excellence is grounded in this truth: we are enough. If I have truly applied myself – heart, body and soul – to something, then that I all I can ever ask or expect of myself.
We all have unicorns waiting for us. They are moments of breakthrough where we realize that what we have been searching for, what we have been working towards so intentionally, and what has seemed so impossibly far off and unattainable for us becomes, well, real.
Your unicorn might be:
- The realization that you don’t have to be perfect or living under the pressure of needing to prove yourself
- One night where you make a true habit shift and breakthrough in your emotional eating patterns and you believe that you can continue doing so in future days
- A moment in which you unexpectedly have the courage to speak up for yourself
- The feeling of pure peace that overcomes you on a random Wednesday…the peace you have been searching for in your fight against your pressing anxiety
- A word of encouragement or affirmation from the person from whom you would least expect it and most desire it
- The affirming moment where you realize you have shifted the truth you know well in your mind to actually be truth you can hold onto in your heart and that you can live out in your actions
I want to help you chase your unicorns because I know they are out there. I am confident that the things that often seem the farthest away from us, the most unattainable, and the things we most yearn for are indeed within our reach. We must believe. We must keep moving forward. We must expect that we can make positive changes in our lives, and as a result, a positive impact in this world.
Start chasing that unicorn you want to see in your life by spending a week online with me in the Emerge Experience. Emerge will give you the tools you need to chase your unicorn, with me as your coach by your side. Get started today on Emerge by signing up at www.trishblackwell.com/emerge and let’s chase some unicorns!
Riding my unicorn,
PS for those of you who are runners and want to nerd out on my splits, here are my actual race splits: Mile 1 – 7:32, Mile 2 – 7:51, Mile 3 – 7:50, Mile 4 – 7:40, Mile 5 – 7:40, Mile 6 – 7:42, Mile 7 – 7:35, Mile 8 – 7:36, Mile 9 – 7:24 Mile 10- 7:26, Mile 11 – 7:40, Mile 12 – 7:24, Mile 13 – 7:36, Half Marathon Split = 1:40:28, Mile 14 – 7:30, Mile 15 -7:38, Mile 16 – 7:27, Mile 17 – 7:36, Mile 18 – 7:42, Mile 19 – 7:54, Mile 21 – 8:18, Mile 22 – 9:06, Mile 23 – 8:11, Mile 24 – 8:27,Mile 25 – 8:45, Mile 26 8:26: Official time: 3:25:36. Official victory of the marathon: winning the race of my mind.