A Grandfather’s Wisdom…

Through the Open Door
October 2005

My grandfather had a favorite expression. Actually, my grandfather had many favorite expressions, nearly all of which can’t be printed in a family magazine. The one he used often as a means of defusing disappointment over some failure or missed opportunity was: “When one door closes, another door opens”.

In the years since his death, in my own moments of despair and disappoint, I have often changed the expression to reflect my own uniquely pessimistic outlook. I would say that: “When one door closes, another door closes.” There were time, I can assure you, when that seemed to be the case.

More often than not, though, my grandfather was right. In most cases, when an opportunity is missed another will come along soon to replace it. In my life I’ve not been selected for some job only to be offered a better one soon after. In fact, if I had gotten the job I thought I really wanted at the time I wouldn’t be writing this column.

Runners, though, don’t seem to be very skilled at going through the open door. Maybe it’s just our nature or the nature of those that are drawn to the sport, I’m not sure. What I am sure of, however, is that it seems like most of us – as runners – spend our entire running lives trying to bust open the closed door.

This is not an altogether bad thing. My first closed door was trying to break 30 minutes in a 5K. Considering that it had taken about 48 minutes to complete my first 5K, the 30 minute door wasn’t just shut, it was locked, barred, bolted, and welded shut. But, like most of us, I lined up for 5K after 5K and ran with everything I had right into the closed door. I’d hit it, bounce back, and try to hit it again.

All around me people were running into closed doors. Some doors were closed at 24 minutes, or even 15 minutes for a 5K, but I can tell you that the doors all look pretty much the same. And, I can also tell you, that those of us who ran smack into our doors looked pretty much the same too.

Eventually, I did get through the 30 minute 5K door, and rather than being content I saw then that there was a 25 minute door that was closed. Like my grandfather has said, one door open but another door closed.

Like most runners, I had lots of doors. I had the 60-minute 10K door, the 2-hour half-marathon door, and the 4-hour marathon door. Some of these doors did open eventually. Some did not. Some doors opened when I least expected them to, others slammed shut in my face without warning.

That’s the part about the doors that no one tells you. Even if you do managed to get through once there’s no guarantee that it will be open the next time you get there. Breaking 30 minutes once doesn’t mean you’ll break it every time. In fact, some doors you’re lucky to ever get through them. And some, you never will.

These days, though, I find myself wanting more and more to go through open door. My attitude about marathons, for example, is why run one in 5 hours when you could run it in 6? I understand that this sounds like blasphemy to the sport’s hardliners, but they don’t understand. For me, being in a race is like going to a theme park. I want to get there when the gates open and stay until they throw me out.

That’s not to say that it isn’t important or valuable to have goals and aspirations. It is. It is the striving for our own limits and potential that keeps life and running interesting. But not always. Sometimes, it’s better to take what the day gives us.

We may very much want a 30 minute 5K, but the open door that day is 33 minutes. We may very much want a sub 4-hour marathon, but then open door that day is 4:30. What’s important to know is that you have a choice. You can run full speed into a door that you know is closed or you can pull back just a little and go through the open door.

Knowing that the choice is yours means that there’s no need for frustration or disappointment. Knowing that you are choosing wisely rather than trying desperately can mean the difference between victory and defeat.

The worst is to be banging on a closed door for minutes or hours or weeks only to discover that another door, right next to it, has been open all along. Maybe your closed door is being a marathoner but your open door is being a 5K runner. Maybe your closed door is being nothing but a runner but your open door is becoming a multi-sport athlete.

There’s no need to be stuck behind a closed door. There are doors that are open to each of us every day. There are opportunities being presented to us that may look like failure but, in fact, have the potential for our greatest success.

Don’t be afraid to walk through the open doors in your running. Don’t be afraid to find the kind of running that you enjoy and do more of it. Don’t let yourself become convinced that if you’re not frustrated most of the time that you’re not trying hard enough.

In the end you may find that by following the path that is best for you that there is a third variation on my grandfather’s wisdom. It may very well be that “When one door opens, another door opens.”

Waddle on, friends.

One Comment

  • Darius says:

    Thanks a lot John Bingham, I really enjoyed your story about your grandfathers wisdom. This opened up a new door for me in my life. Appreciate your work.

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