Limits

I’ve never been good at setting limits for myself. In college, I didn’t bat an eye at taking twenty credits and working. I’m always driving my husband crazy by planning impromptu drives across the country. When 5Ks weren’t enough of a challenge, I started running half marathons, then marathons. And when my friend Andrea, who runs ultramarathons, sent around an email announcing a new ultra race, I decided I was game. I mean, why not?

As the time drew nearer, life intervened. We made plans to go on vacation the next day. My husband was on call the night before the race. The lazy days of summer had turned out to be anything but. But I still wanted to run the race, so I emailed Andrea and asked how intense she thought it would be. She assured me that I’d be fine– ultramarathoners walk up the uphill parts of a race, take a few minutes to chat and eat at the aid stations, and the atmosphere is just generally less intense than at a regular marathon.

All that was true. But those hills? They were mountains. About sixteen miles into the race, when I was at the halfway point, I found myself staring up into “The Widowmaker” which wasn’t just a hill, but a freaking mountain. My feet couldn’t find purchase on the trail and I kept slipping. Finally, my hands full of prickers, I sat down on a rock on the side of the hot, sunny trail (did I mention it was 90+ degrees too? Because yeah, it was), and took a minute to regroup.

I’d pushed myself beyond my limit. And I knew it. Running the race had been a bad choice.

But Andrea can do it, why am I struggling so much?I thought to myself. I started to compare her life to mine, and then stopped myself. It didn’t matter how her life and mine stacked up.

As I slipped and slid down the other side of the mountain (which was just as steep as the way up), I felt chagrined. Not because my ultra marathon time would be more than double my marathon time, but because there have been so many times when I’ve pushed other people beyond their limits. When you read this, I’ll be dragging my reluctant husband through North Dakota and western Minnesota on a trip to visit my parents. We’re going the long way, of course. When my daughter complains that with dance and piano, she’s just too overwhelmed to take viola lessons too, I turn a blind ear. I do it time and again, dragging the people I love best beyond the limits of their endurance.

Now I know how it feels.

I may not have had the greatest race of my life today, but I do feel like I’ve learned my lesson.

About Shelah

(Editor-in-Chief) lives in Salt Lake City with her husband and six kids. She has a BA in English Teaching from BYU, an MA in American Culture Studies from Washington University in St. Louis, and an MFA in Creative Writing at BYU. Her work has been published in Dialogue, the Mormon Women Project, Irreantum, BYU Studies, and Segullah. When she’s not writing or wrangling, she can often be found running through the city in the pre-dawn darkness.

11 thoughts on “Limits

  1. My first thought is to ask “When does a 5K become NOT a challenge?”
    :)
    I appreciate that you stopped yourself from comparing your friend’s life to yours. We just do that WAY too much.
    XO
    Enjoy the journey and thanks for the post.

  2. I often think of that talk with the “good, better, and best” categories. It’s disappointing when something looks fabulous and we decide it’s not the best, but in the end it’s better, isn’t it.

    P.S. I also took 21 credits and worked full-time. I learned how to manage every minute well.

  3. I’m a recovering perfectionist.

    The worst part is I used to hold everyone around me to the same impossible standards I held myself. And then I’d get just as mad at them as I would at myself when they couldn’t reach them either.

    It’s a good way to make your life and all those around you miserable.

    It’s been a long road, but I’m much better now at not expecting perfection from those around me. And I’m even getting better at not expecting it from myself.

  4. I push myself too, although no where near as far as you, but my accomplishments are big for me. At my most extreme I pushed myself right into depression. There were other issues of course, but the moment I fell off the cliff was after one of those times that I pushed myself too far. Usually if I’m pushing myself so hard it’s because there is something out of alignment mentally: I was trying to prove my worth with my work.

    I need sleep, I need restful quiet, I need down time to be stable mentally. This means that my life looks different than most suburban Mormon families. There is no room for comparison if I want happiness and success in the things I carefully choose to do.

  5. I admit, Shelah, I’m surprised anything was too hard for you. It was just a bad day. You’re the person I try not to compare myself with!

    But I hear you, I have high expectations for my children and sometimes demand too much. I need to remember we all have limits.

  6. I am a lot better at this than I used to be–setting my own limits and ignoring guilt or others’ voices. It has especially come in handy this summer–I am almost 8 months’ pregnant. I have coped really well b/c I’ve decided that when I need to rest I need to rest. The end.

  7. i’m completely surrounded by so much raw energy, accomplishment, talent and drive. i’ve lived with the fear that if i’m not enough like these people, they won’t want to be friends, but at the end of the day, if people don’t like me for just how i am for reals, then oh well. i stand all amazed at you and others for being so accomplished and taking everything in stride. it does inspire, as long as i don’t start playing the comparison game and trying to mimic you. i just count myself a cheering fan in your court. even the stars need support teams! ♥

  8. Wow. Great post. We all need to find that balance between pushing ourselves and enjoying life as it happens. I’m pretty easy going and not terribly disciplined, so I have to work at that. We do more enjoying the moment than pushing for excellence than I’d like. But I’ve seen my kids limits cause health issues so I back off pretty fast.

  9. Knowing and accepting our limits is so important, particularly for us perfectionists. But it is hard and humbling. Because noone cheers when you quit the race – even if it is the best thing for you to do. It takes tremendous courage to really know yourself and know your limits and step back. It takes a deep sense of self.

    And yet, when I read that Ana is having her tenth child (congratulations, Ana!), I think, “Wow, ten kids? I only have five. What’s wrong with me?” and start comparing myself to her (who I know nothing about other than that she sounds like an amazing mom with a lot of kids). Sigh. And then I remind myself about the scripture to not run faster than you are able and that I am at my limit, and I know it. Maybe someday I will not only know it, but I will own it, too, and stop beating myself up about it every time I hear of someone who has more than 5 children.

    I need to ease up on my kids, too. My oldest just turned 12, and he is a dream child. But, I can tell I am too hard on him. He is trying to hard to please me. I don’t want him to break when he is 15 or 16 because he felt like he wasn’t good enough to meet my expectations (which he has said, and it broke my heart).

    Recovering from perfectionism is hard.

  10. Excellent. Excellent post. Pertinent.

    I had two of my grandchildren last month for three days and on the last day, I could hardly move. I thought of when I had four kids at home—a toddler and teenagers. I was in the PTA, I had a couple callings, made my own bread from wheat I ground, bottled all the vegetables we ate, made the jam, cooked, cleaned and ran the house. AND I told myself I was too fat, my house wasn’t clean enough and I should do more. Part of that was being married to a perfectionist who was always on my back, but part of it is being a perfectionist AND a Mormon woman.

    Girls, take a load off.

  11. Been meaning to comment here for some time. I read this the day you posted it and felt a punch to the gut for you. It’s so defeating sometimes to realize we have maxed our own capacities, pushed ourselves to the very limit. But I love that you wrote about it so honestly here. And that you broadened it to the cautionary expectations of others. I will remember this.

    As for your ultramarathon future, I have no doubt you’ll conquer the next one. Without a blink. I tell Michelle all the time, I’m pretty sure you’re super human. ;) xo

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