Crossing The Finish Line
It’s Fall in Buffalo. My fingers are slightly numb from the autumn air. My heart is racing as I sprint around the track at my High School. I have a huge smile on my face.
I was a late bloomer. For the majority of my time in school I was shorter than everyone else. It wasn’t until the summer before 11th grade that I finally hit that “growth spurt” all my friends had went through. I went from looking like Russell from Up to looking, well, like a slightly more normal sized 16 year-old.
Unsurprisingly, being short and round didn’t exactly help my athletic ability. Running in school always came down to how fast you could run compared to all your other classmates. If you couldn’t finish in the top 50%, why even bother?
When I was still short and round, I ran the mile at about a 12 minute pace. Right at the bottom of the barrel. But now my legs were long and I had the smallest ember of athleticism glowing inside me.
When the whistle blew I took off. I ran and I ran and I didn’t stop. I could barely believe myself!
As I came around the final lap, I could see how many people were still running and a smile popped up on my face. I couldn’t believe it!
I finished at the same time as another kid and my gym teacher yelled out “9:40!” I was under 10 minutes!? No way! I was on cloud nine.
Then, it happened.
“Creenan! Keep going, you’re not done!” My gym teacher yelled. I turned, confused, and said “But, I ran all four laps!”
He didn’t believe I was capable of running a mile under 10 minutes. He thought I was trying to pull a fast one on him.
I was crushed.
I walked that final lap and he wrote down 13+ minutes as my finish time. That little spark I had inside me was snuffed out, and it would be 10 years before I found it again.
[I’m about to share some photos with you. Photos I’ve never shared before. Photos that I still don’t want to share if we’re being completely honest. But hopefully they will help tell this story in a way my meager writing ability can’t.]
Flash forward to 2015.
This is me after I moved back home with my parents shortly before my 25th birthday in August of 2015. I weighed 245 pounds and I had run a 5k once about 3 years before. I was still under my heaviest recorded weight of 264 pounds, but I had gained a significant amount of weight back over the past few years.
This is what I looked like when I decided to get serious about losing weight and started running again. I huffed and puffed around my parent’s neighborhood in a 1.8 mile loop. It would take me around 30 minutes or more to do it.
I hated every minute of it.
And yet, there was something nice about it. I was alone. I could listen to music. It was just me and my thoughts.
I kept at it.
About a month or so after I started running, my friend Rachel convinced me to sign up for the Star Wars Half-Marathon in Disney World. She signed up with me and my training began.
This is about 3 months after the first photo. I had lost 20 pounds in that time and I was now running around 4 miles at a 12–13 minute pace. Improvement!
Having the half-marathon looming over my head was a constant motivator. Every day I didn’t feel like going out for a run, I’d remember the half-marathon and get my butt out there.
This photo is 2 months after the last one. I was 30 pounds down from my pre-running weight and I actually started to like the way I looked. This is also about a month into my official training schedule. I had now run 6 miles at an 11–12 minute pace.
I felt like a real runner.
It was around this time people started giving me comments of disbelief.
“6 miles?! I could never do that!”
But the thing is, you can.
Look at that flabby, bearded, sad guy in the first photo! For better or worse, that was me. That was the me that decided to start running again. If that guy could put his Xbox controller down and go for a run, anyone can.
I dreamt about this from the moment I signed up for the half-marathon. Crossing that finish line. When I felt tired during a run, like I couldn’t go one more step, I’d think about crossing the finish line and how great it would feel.
It was even better than I imagined.
As I write this, I’m 40 pounds down from that first photo and I’m just shy of weighing under 200 pounds for the first time since I was 17.
YOUR GREATEST OPPONENT
Running isn’t about competing against others. It’s a competition against yourself.
Can I beat my last personal best?
Can I run farther than my last farthest run?
Every time I lace up my sneakers I face my greatest opponent. Myself.
That’s why I run. That’s why I will continue to run. To try and beat my best and keep improving.
Whether the thing you’re trying to get better at is design, art, or running, you’re only ever competing against yourself. Learn from your heroes, strive to get better, but never compare yourself to them. You aren’t them and they aren’t you.
Comparing yourself to others gets you nowhere. It’s a curse. It makes you doubt yourself and despise your own achievements.
You’ll never see the beauty in your own work when you’re comparing it to the work of others. In your eyes, everyone else is a pro and you’re just some schmuck trying to make something.
A lot of people throw the term “imposter syndrome” around. That feeling that everyone else has it figured out and you are just a fraud who’s faking it. The strange thing about imposter syndrome is that everyone you admire seems to have it too. I have met so many people who I’d thought “had it all figured out” and they were just as insecure and passionate as I was.
No one has it all figured out. Everyone sees the flaws in their own self. It’s easy to be hard on yourself when you’re trying to get better at something. You can’t let your desire to be better get in the way of the thing you’re trying to get better at.
When I go out for a run, I don’t turn around and go home when my first couple of miles are slow. I finish and figure out what the problem was when I’m done.
When I work on a design, I don’t throw out an idea because it isn’t quite right. I iterate upon it until something special comes of it.
REMAKING A TOUGH DECISION DAY AFTER DAY
When you make a tough decision, one that will really change the course of your life, you aren’t just making it once. You have to remake that decision each and every day.
Every time I got ready to go for a run, it was a battle of pure will. It never became easy to decide to go out and run. There was always something else I could or should be doing. But I had made a commitment and was going to stick to it.
Making a commitment like that means sacrifice. It means saying no when friends invite you out for drinks the night before a long run. It means not watching Netflix and heading up to your drawing table instead. It means staying up late or getting up early to get that design done.
It sucks. It’s hard. But trust me, it’s worth it.
Drawing, designing, and running refresh my soul in a way no other activities do. They make me feel good. I feel proud of myself when I finish a design or come back from a run. I’ve achieved something, no matter how small.
That’s a feeling I cherish.
What makes you feel that way? Maybe it’s going for a bike ride, painting, building furniture, or cooking a meal. Whatever your thing is, please, make the time to do it.
It’s easy to feel busy. Like we have no time for the things we really want to do. I used to feel the same way. But when I took a hard look at my day, I found the gaps. The time I could take away from one activity and devote to the thing that was most important to me.
My friend Kyle Adams summed it up this way. There are 168 hours in a week. If your job takes up 50 hours a week and you get 8 hours of sleep each night, you have 62 hours left in your week. That’s a whole lot of time.
If there’s something you’ve always wanted to do but feel like you don’t have the time, I encourage you to make time and devote it to that activity. Even if it’s only 15 minutes a day. That’s 15 more minutes than you had devoted to it before. And that time will add up.
Life is too short to sit around wishing you were doing something else. You can make it happen if you try. It might not be easy and it might not happen quickly, but you can at least say you are trying. That’s a heck of a lot more than most people can say.
I might never be able to run a full marathon. I might not be able to make my business work. I might not ever become the kind of designer I aspire to be.
It’s easy to fear failure and to imagine what will happen if you fail. Instead of fearing failure, think about what would happen if you succeeded?
Set goals and keep them in your mind. Let them motivate you even when you feel like you can’t take one more step. Imagine yourself crossing your finish line, and keep on pushing. Your best self is just one decision away.
PS — SOME THANK YOUS
I want to thank my parents, for always telling me they were proud of me when I got back from a run.
I want to thank my Aunt Sue, for driving me to the running store and being my moral support when I bought my first pair of nice running shoes.
I want to thank all of my wonderful friends who encouraged me when I shared my running times on Facebook. You believed in me even when I didn’t believe in myself. That encouragement means the world to me.
And finally, I want to thank my wonderful friend Rachel, who made me sign up for this half-marathon in the first place. Who sent me motivating messages when I ran. Who set up my training plan. Who traveled to Orlando and ran the race with me. You were my biggest cheerleader and I owe you a debt I can never repay.