By Jeremy Vlasich
It’s interesting how life goes down paths that create our identity, impact our book of life, and define who we are.
Often, we don’t understand how we move through chapters in life until later, like we can’t see it while we’re in the middle of it. Some of our chapters lead us to great things and some lead us to less than ideal outcomes.
To demonstrate, I want to share a story about what happened at the end of one of my life chapters and what I learned through it….
I was a runner.
I was not a great long distance runner. However, I loved to train, and I loved running single track trails. Trails help me be close to nature, God, and my soul. I loved being able to think during long runs, and I enjoyed the euphoria that came at the end of the run.
It was these things that made me define myself as a runner. It was my identity.
In marathons, I was always good from miles 10 through 18 or 20. I tended to physically fall apart around mile 22.
But, this is commonly where your body takes over. Your mind lies to you. Your mind plays tricks on you.
So when I raced, the last 4-6 miles were all mental, and during this time, I tended to get out of my head. I was sure this was the only way that I could finish, as the runner’s wall is more than a wall. It feels like a mountain. It feels insurmountable.
I had just finished running my fifth marathon in NYC. My best marathon time had been a Chicago marathon I completed in 3 hours and 47 minutes. I completed the NYC marathon in just under 4 hours and 30 minutes, making it my slowest marathon by a lot.
My last month of training for it was painful. I’d hurt my calf muscle and couldn’t complete my training. However, my wife was running with me in NYC and our whole family was coming out to support us and then vacation for a week in the city. I had to compete.
This was the only option:
I had to run and finish.
As I started the first bridge in NYC from Staten Island to Brooklyn, I knew it was going to be tough. My body did not feel great, and I was unsure how I could go much longer, let alone finish the race. My wife was going for a personal record, so I tried to keep up.
At mile 13, I was toast. I told my wife to go on. Finishing the race was a battle that I wasn’t sure I could win, and I wasn’t going to bring her down with me.
I never told anyone, not even my wife, but I cried a lot during the final 8-10 miles. Part of the crying was because of the pain in my body, but most of it was the mental aspect. I almost never walked during marathons, but in NYC, I walked a few times.
I wanted to give up.
The crowd was amazing, which helped. but I was on an island. I was ultimately all by myself. No one could really help me. Finishing had to be from me.
Like I said, during the most difficult times of running, you have to leave your body. Get out of your mind.
My favorite thing was when I managed to run out of my body, and 1 or 2 miles would just vanish.
Literally, it’s like a dream. You wake up and miles disappeared. Sometimes, I’d trick my mind and body by pushing myself into the future to the miles ahead and see myself there. It was the silliest game. Yet, it worked.
As I came into Manhattan over the last bridge, my endurance tank was gone. My right calf was locked up and torn.
But I knew I had to finish the last 3-4 miles. I couldn’t give up now. With 2 or 3 miles left, I started running with a limp. I had nothing left. I prayed to God.
I finally crossed the finish line, my body trashed and my mind gone. I almost felt more like an animal than a human, and it was the toughest thing I had ever done in my life. The struggle was so real, and I’m not sure what exactly helped me finish.
But then came the end of a chapter.
My wife did great and made a personal record time. I was the inverse….
I’d hurt my body so much that when I came home from NYC, I couldn’t run anymore.
I was devastated. Running had defined who I was for over 6 years.
What do I do now? Who am I? These are the exact thoughts that went through my mind during this time. I had spent days, weeks, months, and years running. I had countless fond memories of training, pushing myself, and accomplishing goals while running. I defined myself as a runner.
Was this the end of my identity?
A wonderful mentor told me that life is like a book full of chapters. Some chapters go quick. Some go slow. Some are awesome, and some are full of heartache. But, there’s always a start and finish to each chapter in the book of life. This is life.
Running was a chapter in my life. It had a definite beginning. Apparently, there’s also an ending that came faster than I wanted.
Just like a good book.
I need to look at this journey as one chapter with a lot of amazing experiences and stories that help define me and future chapters in my life.
(Note: When life chapters change, it can help to have a Vision to get you off on the right foot moving forward. Your Vision is a clear, written description of what your complete, ideal life looks like. If you don’t have your own Vision yet, here’s a simple resource that can help you start the process for yourself.)
Look at life with your reading glasses on.
Life is like an amazing, rich, and eventful book. Full of chapters. Some chapters are full of amazing stories. Some chapters we want to finish and move on to the next chapter as quickly as possible.
But your life is not defined by a chapter. It is defined by the book.
So rather than focusing on and defining yourself based on the chapter you’re in, focus on your entire book of life. The book is the full story of who you are. The book defines you and is your identity. My wish and prayer for you is that your book be full of rich, bountiful, and awesome chapters that produce an award winning book of life.
Have you experienced a chapter change that forced you to redefine yourself? Do you define your life by your entire book? I’d love to hear your experiences in the comments!