<<UPDATE>> Yesterday the six Nazarians ran the Wallkill Turkey Trot in Middletown, NY. The family baton has been passed, as the order of finish was: Oliver, Lewis, Me, Lawrence (not far behind), Charlotte and Emily. It was a great way to start Thanksgiving day and a tradition we plan on continuing.
The other day I competed in one of the 5K road races I run every year. It is called the East Avenue Grocery Run and it raises both money and collects non-perishable food for local charities.
In addition to the great cause, it is also one of the flattest and fastest courses I have ever run, so each year it offers a no excuses measurement of where I am as a runner.
When I started running in middle school, time was not as big a deal as place. Although we did keep track of times all through high school, it was where you placed in a race that mattered to us most, since the statement “I won” is a lot more fun to say than “I ran a xx:xx,” especially when talking to a non-runner.
As I grew and matured into an adult road racer, time became the only thing that mattered. Sure, winning a prize for being the fastest in my age group is a fine feeling, but when you finish a course fifteen seconds faster than last year, that is an accomplishment to savor as you place your tired, middle-aged head on the pillow at night.
As a teenager, I would loosely keep track of training time over routes that were sloppily clocked using the car odometer. Now I have an app on my phone that tracks my every step, and using GPS gives me distance measurements to an accuracy of three feet. Even if time didn’t matter, there is so much data available today that it is hard to ignore.
I didn’t race much in my thirties, but since my fortieth birthday, I have run more races in each passing year. In 2014 I’ve already raced five times and I’ll probably squeeze in one or two more before the ball drops.
I prefer the 5K. Actually if I could regularly race 800 or 1,600 meters like I did in high school, I’d be even happier, but given the race options out there, the 5K is where I am the happiest.
Let me say this once so there is no confusion… I have no desire, nor plan to run a marathon (or even a half marathon), ever.
So, since returning to the road racing circuit I have been chasing a goal. I have been trying to run a 5K in fewer than twenty minutes.
Last year at the Grocery Run I ran a 20:13, and throughout 2014 I have been within striking distance of my goal at every race, but despite my best training and strategic efforts, it has remained elusive.
When I got out of bed at 6:30 the morning of the race, I was not pleased to see that it was 38 degrees out and drizzling. But, I put on appropriate running attire and headed downtown. I registered, put on my number and warmed up. By the time the 8:15 start time arrived, the rain had stopped and I felt good. I found a comfortable spot on the line surrounded by what appeared to be runners of similar skill.
The gun went off and we all shot westward on East Avenue. The pace was brisk, but I resisted the temptation to go out too fast. I settled into a comfortable pace and as we came through the one-mile mark, an official called out my time… 6:12. That is a little faster than I should have been going, but I felt strong. Half way into the race I really thought my sub-twenty goal was finally going to happen.
In January 1992, I moved to New York City to pursue a career in acting, directing and or writing. Having just received a BA in English and theatre, I had spent my college years rekindled a love for performing that I’d had started in elementary school. After tossing my mortarboard skyward, this was the dream I set out to achieve.
I had no real plan beyond some money in the bank, a stack of headshots and an average theatrical resume.
I spent my days personally delivering headshots and resumes to agents. At night I would sit in front of my 9” black and white Macintosh SE and write. I purchased every newspaper there was, scouring the classifieds for open auditions… or as the industry calls them “cattle calls.”
- I auditioned for a New Jersey dinner-theatre production of Fiddler On The Roof. I didn’t get it.
- I auditioned for a ten-line part in an off-Broadway show that was closing in two weeks and paid $100/week. I didn’t get it.
- I went to every open call that would let me through the door… and I hated every minute of it.
For months I had done everything that the dream required, but the more I did it, the less I wanted it.
One Sunday evening in early spring, I was scheduled to read for another tiny off-Broadway part that paid something like $150/week for eight performances. The audition was way downtown on 11th Street near the Hudson River. I lived on east 74th street between First and York Avenues.
Since I had more time than money, I decided to walk the 4.5 miles to the 9:30pm audition. I stuffed a few CDs into my backpack with my Sony Discman and a pile of headshots. I laced up my running shoes and headed out.
As I diagonally transected the island of Manhattan, I took an emotional inventory of what I had been doing since January. As I walked, I thought about all the things I wanted to do with my life. I also mentally flipped through all the experiences and feelings I’d had since coming to the city.
When I got to the location of the audition I was dismayed to see more than thirty other people sitting in folding chairs, waiting for their 90 second audition slots. I checked in with the lady holding the clipboard and took a seat.
As I reviewed the sides given to me on the way in, I participated in a ritual with which I had become all too familiar. When you get to a cattle call, you place your headshot (with the resume glued to the back) picture side down on your lap; this allows the person sitting next to you to see what experience you are bringing into the competition.
The guys on either side of me seemed to know the rules of the game, and as I read their credentials through casual side glances, I had one of the clearest epiphanies of my life.
The guy to the right of me had been on at least ten different television shows and commercials. The guy to the left of me had been in half a dozen movies, most of which I had actually heard of. My resume contained only the plays I had done in college.
The moment of clarity came when I realized that… if I had the resume belonging to either of my neighbors, I wouldn’t expect to be sitting here with me, yet there they were. These guys had been on television and in the movies, yet they were just as hopeful for the crappy $150/week part that it turned out I had no chance of landing.
I waited for my turn, delivered my lines and walked the four miles back home.
That was the last audition I ever went to.
Letting go of the dream I thought I wanted wasn’t difficult once I realized I no longer wanted it. The data came in pretty fast and clear, but it isn’t always that way.
People will tell you that with tenacity and perseverance anything is possible, and this may very well be true. However, we are also well served by the idea that when a dream is no longer what we want or remotely practical, that it is okay to walk away.
That night in Manhattan I realized that other things were more important to me than a life in the spotlight and I walked away… literally. If I had never gone to New York to give it a try, I would have spent the rest of my life wondering “what if.” But, because I did go, I have never once regretted the efforts I made nor my decision to move on.
As I passed the two-mile mark in the race, I selected a runner out ahead of me and began picking up my pace to try and catch him. The last half-mile of the Grocery Run is a straight shot over a very slight rise. I caught my target runner just as the finish line came into view. I felt like I had paced the race just right since I had a little energy left to kick the final 100 yards to the finish. I picked off a couple more runners before completing the final steps of the course.
As my weary legs carried my timing chip and me over the finish line, an official barked out a time over the PA system. TWENTY THIRTY-SIX.
I was crestfallen. Not only had I not achieved my goal, I had run the race twenty-three seconds slower than last year.
As I grabbed a bottle of water and started my recovery, I thought back over the race trying to figure out what had gone wrong. After a few minutes the answer came to me, and it was… nothing. I realized that my goal of a sub-twenty 5K was completely arbitrary, making my inability to achieve it equally insignificant.
Throughout the race I felt strong, I competed well, and I finished with a very respectable time for a fellow of my age. As for running at my age, I enjoy training, it keeps me healthy and over time I have learned to enjoy races more and more. Only the anxiety of my unachieved goal had been stressing me out.
So I’ve zeroed-in on a much looser goal going forward. In five weeks I turn forty-six, so I have decided that as long as I can finish every 5K in fewer minutes than half my age, then I am doing just fine.
We all have goals and dreams, both short and long term. As long as you still want them and they still make sense, by all means do not give up. However, if the data and your feelings are telling you that it is time to move on to something new and different, don’t wait… the race is only so long.
Copyright © 2015 – Stephen S. Nazarian – All rights reserved. (Half My Age Will Be Fine)