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I love running marathons. There’s something about pushing the mental and physical boundaries comprising our so-called “comfort zones” that reminds us of our potential. A couple weeks ago, I ran the 2014 Little Rock Marathon, and it was a memorable one. From the generosity of complete strangers, to the miscommunication of the race being canceled, I learned a few lessons that can be applied to any area of life— not just running.

1. How we respond to negative thoughts is everything — it’s the ballgame. The Little Rock Marathon is known for its hills. Starting around mile 12, a gradual incline continues for 2-3 miles. After passing the Capitol, you can see the “ascent” begin, and it was at this time that I saw frustration set in among a few of the runners. Everyone started the race with smiles and excitement, but for a few, the enjoyment of running evolved to grunting and complaining about the “massive hill.” I understood what the other runners were thinking— I was fighting the same negative thoughts:

“Really? 3 miles of a continuous hill? Can someone please introduce me to the genius that decided a continuous 3 mile hill would be appropriate around the midpoint of a marathon?”

While we cannot keep negative thoughts from entering our minds, how we react will ultimately determine how we progress through obstacles.

When it comes to running, one strategy I use when ascending a seemingly endless hill is refusing to look at the hill in its entirety. Instead, I focus on the steps in front of me, which ultimately will lead to the top. Similarly, life’s obstacles or challenges may seem difficult, perhaps even impossible. Instead of focusing on the obstacle, we can use our energy to zero in on the steps we can take now. How we react to negative thoughts changes our entire experience.

2. Kindness from complete strangers still exists. Our culture exudes selfishness, or so it would seem. In a world where “What’s in it for me?” has become the mantra of those asked for favors, many believe the concept of unconditional kindness has become extinct. During the marathon, however, I witnessed what many would consider “irrational kindness.” Around mile 11, one of the runners from my running group mentioned that her hands were starting to go numb from the decrease in temperature. After a couple minutes, a spectator cheering on the runners did the unthinkable: she gave the gloves she was wearing to the runner. We were completely surprised that a spectator with no connection to any of us in the group would give the gloves off her hands to help warm the hands of a complete stranger running a marathon. Here she was, standing in the cold, and she sacrificed her means of warmth to help a complete stranger. Don’t lose faith in humanity. Unconditional kindness still exists.

3. Miscommunication is going to happen. Around mile 18, a storm system had moved into Little Rock and the rain was pouring. The temperature had dropped 15 degrees from when we started and police on the course began telling runners that the race had been canceled due to the storm. We ignored the warning at first but were forced to turn right and started heading toward the finish line. We ended up running a total of 20.66 miles, 5.5 miles short of the total marathon distance. As we approached the finish line, the volunteers acted like the race had never been canceled. While volunteers a few miles back were holding up signs saying that the event was canceled, everyone at the finish acted like the race was still going strong.

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The race directors released a video message the next day describing the race as being rerouted and that it was never actually canceled. Many people were outraged, as a communication failure had certainly taken place. The experience reminded me that miscommunication happens, and all we can control is how we will react. When we’re disseminating information, we must do everything we can to be clear and avoid miscommunication. When we are on the receiving end of miscommunication, we can choose to let it ruin our experience or move forward. One of the best forms of education is learning from failure.

 

What strategies do you use when negative thoughts enter your mind? Have you experienced unconditional kindness from a stranger? How do you react to miscommunication? Please leave your comment here.