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But First Happiness

But First Happiness

A few weeks ago, I heard someone say something along the lines of, "Set personal goals, but loosen your grip on them."
It hit hard! Where do we strike that balance between striving towards excellence and stopping to smell the roses along the way? What do those goals mean if we aren't present in the rest of our lives?

I feel like it can be easy to distill our lives down to the sacrifices we make towards achieving our dreams. To bed by nine, disciplined training, well-timed nutrition, focused recovery. But the flip side of that is leaving dinner parties before you're ready, skipping a packrafting trip, or hike with people who are important to you, having to say “no” to a spontaneous adventure.

I have always been at odds with the part of me that knows what it takes to race at a competitive level and the part of me that wants to dive into life with an open mind and adventurous spirit. And when heading home to Hawaii to spend time with loved ones following the loss of a family friend, I wondered how I would balance wanting to be present while also preparing to run a 3:30 50K, the qualifying time for a World Championship Team, at the end of the week.

Day one in Hawaii, I landed in Kona and was picked up by a high school friend at 9pm after a long travel day. While I was excited to see her, I let her know that I still had to rest up for my race. Instead, we ended up staying up till 1am catching up. While I had no regrets, I woke up the next day feeling groggy and less than ideal.

Cat Bradley running in goodr polarized sunglasses
The first few days I was stressed and vowed to go to bed earlier, eat better, and perhaps drink a little less the next night. But as evening would come around and the "work from home" day ended, I kept finding myself unable to tear myself away from my people.
As the week went on and I got closer to race day, my sleep patterns didn't improve, but I found myself becoming more relaxed about the upcoming race. Three days before the gun went off, I spent the night in the emergency room with a friend who rolled her ankle. I got no sleep, but we were the life of the Waimea ER that night. Two days before the race, I threw my sister a surprise birthday party. We didn't get home until midnight, but we got to eat leftover cake as a family after everyone else had gone to bed. The night before the race, my dad, who had never seen me race before, took my childhood friends, sister, and me out to dinner. We stayed up talking story until 11:30pm, not too concerned about the looming 4am alarm.

With each day that passed, I found my grip loosen on my goal. That didn't mean I wasn't excited to give it my all, just that in this trip, my priorities had shifted. I was sleep-deprived, yes. But I was also relaxed and fulfilled, excited to chase my goal, but not overly worried about the outcome because when I crossed the finish line, I would still have my people.

I went out hard, blew up, and hobbled the last few miles. With just a kilometer left, I circled towards the finish and saw my family. They screamed that I just had a few minutes left to run under the World Championships' qualifying time. I sprinted to the finish line with a wobbly stride, and flat legs. I won the race and qualified with just seven seconds to spare. It was one of the most fun, hardest-fought, and most fulfilling races I've ever done.

Cat Bradley running a World Championship Team qualifying 50K
I reflected on how and why I could dig deeper and race harder, even though I had every excuse in the world to give up when the pressure was on. It is no coincidence that it was after a week of connection and adventure where the priority was geared towards happiness instead of performance.
Latching onto goals can help to tow us towards them, acting as a lifeline, pulling us towards what we want to achieve. However, if that goal's weight is too heavy, it can also drag us down, acting as an anchor, suffocating the life out of the day to day.

Sometimes, I grip my goals too tight, white-knuckling through life single-mindedly. Sometimes that's what it takes to perform well. But preparing to shoot for a big goal while also trying to balance life at home was a good reminder that happiness is always the first ingredient to success.

Cat Bradley in goodr running sunglasses
Cat is a pro trail runner from Nederland, Colorado. She made a name for herself winning the Western States 100 and breaking a 10-year-old Grand Canyon rim-to-rim-to-rim speed record. Cat and her dog Shirley like to travel in their custom-built Sprinter van - camping out under the stars at night and running the steepest trails during the day. Cat feels unbelievably lucky to pursue a career where the mountains are her office and her shoes hold her potential.



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