I had a good year in 2008. I won the IMRA Irish Championship, the Connaught Championship and the Queen of the Mountains. Later, I came first overall in the IMRA Navigational Challenge. With Andrew McCarthy, we retained our 24 hour Irish Rogaine Title in June. In September, together with John MacEnri, we won the Mourne Mountain Marathon Elite mixed class and were the third team in overall.
Sometimes winning is all we want. I know I trained for these races. I entered them knowing that I wanted to do as well as I possibly could.
However, as I stepped up to receive these prizes, I felt a bitter-sweet emptiness. I had worked hard for these moments, and yet, now that I had made it, it wasn’t all that it was cracked up to be. I felt embarrassed to be standing up in front and being clapped. I felt under undue pressure to do it all again, to win more titles in quicker times next time around. I also felt that the recognition was not rightfully mine: I wouldn’t have been first if it hadn’t been the encouragement I had received from other runners and the training advice I had received from the likes of Andrew.
Standing back from these titles and wins, I’ve come to the conclusion that, for me, winning isn’t what counts. What counts is the happiness I feel when training, the enjoyment I get from running on tarmac and trails. What is equally important are the people who run with me, my training partners and team-mates, fellow mountain runners and orienteers with whom I swap stories at the finish and later in the pub.
In the end, winning happens because God gave me two legs and a good heart and a pair of great lungs. This He gave me along with a will and way to use them.
If winning happens, then that’s grand. But my focus has now switched from winning to what happens before even getting to the line. This is because happiness for me is not in the defeat of others or in the metal nugget on my mantelpiece. Happiness for me is running in the mountains, alone or with others, and that’s my ultimate prize.