I used to live with professional runners and they would tell me about how awful it was to try to win a marathon. "I totally understand," I said. The truth was, I had no idea. I imagined it was like the worst mile I had ever run. Lungs burning, muscles aching, you just push through. "You can't even imagine," they told me. So then they explained what it is really like: after you start to run as fast as your body can handle, you start to get blisters on the bottom of your feet and your body is so tired that you lose control. By the finish line, you may not really know where you are and you don't really get this amazing feeling of euphoria as you float across the finish line. In fact, it sounded like a miracle that any of these runners got to the finish line.
I think this is a more realistic story of reaching your goal than the fantasy of climbing the mountain and reaching the top. Take, for example, my experience as a Young Rider. After spending my senior year working with a horse I planned to compete, he broke his leg in turnout and we had to put him down. All of my friends were heading off to college and I was left behind, no horse, no college plans, no shows in sight. I felt defeated. There was no "ride through" moments, I just had blistered feet and enough time to wonder if I even wanted to be in the race. I wanted a horse to ride, to work toward something, but the truth was I just had to sit and wait while we searched for a replacement horse. That was the real "riding through."
What I learned is that while we imagine that the struggle is putting the work in, the real fight comes with the unexpected. To me, riding through means realizing you don't have the money to make a team and changing your goals, accepting that your horse scares you and selling him, appreciating that you hurt your knee and riding for the next month is not the best for your long-term health.
We might not be professional marathoners, but I can tell you one thing. When something happens you didn't plan for, the true test of a person is how they deal with the unexpected moments.