running-cross-country-running-15859409-1024-768[1]I love to run. I’m not a great runner—I am neither graceful nor fast—but I do enjoy it. In my mind, running exemplifies strength, determination, and freedom—a pretty heady mix. No wonder it kicks up the endorphins.

Another advantage of my running has been the number of lessons I’ve learned about patience, perseverance, and pressing on toward a goal. The most recent lesson came several weeks ago when a cross-country team caught up with me on the trail.

I was on the last leg of my route when this group of young people began to pass me up. I watched them as they jogged by, envious of their energy and stamina and natural grace. I was enjoying my run up to that point, but in that moment, I felt the weight of all I would never be pressing in on me.  I knew that no matter how hard I tried, I’d never be able to keep up with them.

I finished my run that day, but I didn’t feel the satisfaction of reaching the goal. I just felt tired.

I often feel the same way about my writing. I love to write and dream of seeing my stories in print, but it’s easy to lose ground when I look at the many writers already out there.

I’m not just talking about the big names with the lucrative movie deals. I’m talking about the writers whose work, though not making headlines, has consistently entertained readers for years. I think about the writers who win contests or publish articles. I’m reminded of those who attend numerous writers’ conferences every year and are courting or being courted by literary agents. I consider the ones who consistently submit their work in spite of the rejections piling up in their desk drawer, and the thought of that whole process tires me out.

My confidence lags, my progress slows, and I just want to quit.

But that day, as I slogged through the last half mile of my run, I learned a new lesson. The secret of success isn’t found in keeping pace with someone else. True success is finishing the race regardless of where I place. The reward is in facing the challenge.

2004 Olympic medalist Meb Keflezighi explains it this way: “I … realize that winning doesn’t always mean getting first place; it means getting the best out of yourself.”

That’s my goal in running, in writing, in living. How about you? What challenges bring out the best of you?