The rain poured slowly and steadily from the gray sky.

With minutes left before the start of the race, I walked toward the start line.

I checked my watch and fell into step behind four women.

I overheard their conversation about their goals for the race.

One women mentioned her goal time and her friend cut in, “You don’t know your potential.”

“That’s true,” the first woman replied. “I don’t.”

“Today is about unleashing your potential,” her friend told her.

Another woman joined in, “That’s right. Today, we are all going to unleash our potential. We’ll find out what we can do.”

As I listened, they continued. They repeated that phrase again and again as they talked about their plans for the race, their hopes to run faster and stronger than ever before.

This group of women offered each other the gift of encouragement. They each believed in the others’ abilities to be their best and discover their untapped abilities.

I drifted to my place in the crowd waiting for the start, and didn’t see them again.

I thought about their words as I began my race.

I didn’t expect to run my best for several reasons: I haven’t been training much; I spent most of Saturday night up with my daughter, who hasn’t been feeling well.

Mostly, I felt glad to be running in a race again. I had a time in mind, for motivation, but didn’t feel very connected to the goal.

About four minutes in, my perspective changed.

I had started too fast. I could tell. I asked a man running beside me, “What type of pace do you think we’re running?”

A woman behind me started to match my stride. “We’re running a 9 minute mile pace right now.”

We ran side by side for a few minutes. We introduced ourselves. “I’m Becky.” “That’s my name, too.”

“Do you have any kids?” “Three daughters.””Me too.”

As we continued through the course, I discovered Becky is a fairly new runner. She’s done a few races over the past year or so, and hasn’t been happy about her progress toward faster times.

As we reached the mile mark and then then two mile mark, we stayed on course for a personal best time.

But not for me — for my new friend Becky.

We ran most of the race side by side. When I could catch my breath, I spoke words of encouragement to her. As we struggled up an incline, she encouraged me, “We’re almost there.”

As we reached the last half mile of the race, I started to pull ahead slightly.

I found myself running alone. My motivation weakened.

And then, after a few minutes, Becky ran beside me again.

“You caught up,” I told her.

“You waited for me,” she said.

“You’re going to beat your best time today,” I told her.

“If I do,” she said, “it will be because of you.”

We ran strong to the finish. Becky did surpass her best time, by several minutes.

I slid my green bracelet from my wrist, the one that says, “You are remarkable.” I gave it to Becky and watched her put it on. “You ARE remarkable,” I told her. “You did an amazing job today.”

As you might imagine, there are several lessons here, and they’re not really about running.

Our belief in others can be a powerful force for good in their lives. The four women who started the race together created a positive sense of expectation through their belief in each other. Knowing that someone believes in you can fuel you when you’re discouraged; when you’re feeling strong, someone’s belief in you can make you even stronger. When I began to encourage Becky, she gained a new view of herself and her potential.

We can always accomplish more when we join with others. I have no doubt that Becky and I ran faster and finished stronger because we ran together. I kept running a steady pace because I wanted to stay in step with her. She ran faster at the end to catch up with me so we could finish together. When we work on teams, we will work harder to keep pace with others.

We can find great joy in helping others succeed. When my race ended, I quickly compared my actual time (29:37) to the goal time I had typed in my iPhone notes (28:49). Honestly, I didn’t feel any disappointment at all. Instead, I felt excited for the opportunity I found to help Becky be her best.

What if…

We always focused more on helping others be their best and less on our own goals?

We eagerly looked for opportunities to encourage others toward success?

We could begin every day with a clear idea that others have untapped potential waiting to be unleashed?

We could help others achieve their personal best, every day?

I learn a lot about leadership when I run. If you enjoyed this post, you might also enjoy these:

Ducks in a Row: Team Support

Running Together