On the heals of my second place finish in the Adirondack marathon relay, I decided to run one more race this season – the Empire State half marathon. The unreasonable entry fees keep me from racing more often than I do, but having spent three months building up my conditioning, it made sense to capitalize on that with one more race. Based on last year’s results I knew my goal time would put me right in the mix for an award in my age group. My hopes were high.
The race was this past weekend. I ran well, right on my goal pace throughout, and finished in 1:32:08, good enough for 41st overall in a field of about 1350. I was anxious to see how that would stack up against the other 40-45 year olds. Results were printed out and taped to the side of a trailer where a crowd gathered. I wriggled my way to the front and found my listing. The results were in. I placed fourth in my age group. Awards for the top three. And I was fourth.
All the satisfaction of my individual performance withered in the light of the posted race results that left me just shy of the podium. My time was good. But I was just another also-ran. I got a finishers medal – same as Will Artley who finished 1349th overall and took two and a half times as long to cover the 13.1 miles.
The next day I interviewed for a new position at work, a district manager. I wrote about the experience in my last post, comparing it to a coin toss. From my vantage point it was a wholly uncertain outcome. From God’s perspective, it was a settled physics formula. He knew the outcome the moment he tossed the coin. He controlled all the variables that determined whether the coin would land heads or tails.
Since then the coin, flipping end-over-end, has come to rest. All that spinning finished. All that uncertainty settled. I had called it heads as it was whirled through the air throbbing with vigor. Now I gaze at a coin still as night, tales side up. I did not get the job. There was one candidate who beat me out based on experience. I was runner-up, small consolation in a contest with only one prize.
Runner-up may be harder to stomach than back of the pack. Close enough to taste victory, only to walk away with a mouth full of sand. It’s a gritty chew that goes down hard. Hope runs high and disappointment runs deep. The near miss has all the drama of victory and all the angst of defeat. It is being in the running and then losing on the final kick. But failure measured in inches is as much failure as that measured in yards. There is little comfort is being the best of the losers.
I didn’t stay for the awards ceremony after the race. Why bother? I wouldn’t get anything for fourth place. Later that day I went on the website to check out the results a bit more closely. The results opened to a page entitled “HalfMarathon – Awards and Age Group Listing.” I scrolled down to my age group and found my name listed in third place. Third place? But I was fourth.
It turns out that they also had an overall masters award for those forty and older. The first place finisher in my age group was the overall masters winner. Having won the masters, he was not included in the age group awards. Everyone moved up a spot. I moved into third. Knocked out of the awards only to discover a loophole allowing me to slide into third. I lost; and yet I won. This seems a formula that God employs frequently.
When he called to tell me the decision, the director of Human Resources said that he had bad news and good news. The bad news was that I didn’t get the job. The good news was that they recognized the need to create a career path to allow me to move forward. They have decided to develop a new position for me – a regional supervisor. As they build a third Syracuse location and expand the original Syracuse location to include full food service, they would like me to move out of a single store and begin to supervise six profit centers for Syracuse – three stores and three food service departments.
I lost, and yet I won. Missing out on the District Manager position hurts, but this regional supervisor may be better suited to me – less travel and more concentrated focus on three locations. This is my strength. I trained all the managers in the Syracuse market. I am training two more now. These are established relationships of trust and respect, easily leveraged for me to act as supervisor. I run an increasingly profitable store, top line and bottom line and feel confident that this is reproducible. I know our food service program well, from front line production to back house administrative work. Even now I am helping a new food service supervisor in our store get his legs under him. This seems a good fit, from every angle.
It will be some time before the pieces fall into place, probably coinciding with the building of the new location in the next year or so. But I am hopeful. In losing the coin toss, I may still win the game. The seeds of hope have been planted in the rich compost of disappointment. On close inspection, I see the stem just breaking through the soil.