It’s no new revelation that running mirrors life, but I am learning that long-distance running mirrors it even more clearly. Here are some reasons why.
You can’t do it alone.
There is just no way I could finish my weekly long run without support. Friends and family who leave and bring water, friends who advise about nutrition and safety, friends who encourage, and even the people who made the music in my ears are all critical to my success. I can’t run long alone and I can’t live alone, either.
Sometimes you will want to quit, or not even start.
I have a goal for every long run, and some days I don’t think I can possibly do it. It scares me, honestly, even to begin. But one foot in front of the other, one song after another, it’s getting done. Today, my goal was to complete eleven miles and after four, I was exhausted. After ten, I thought I would settle for 10.75, even though that was ridiculously close to the goal and I would have hated myself if I had stopped there. Out there in the street, I’m fighting the dragons who tell me I can’t and ever so slowly, I’m finding I can.
The process is more important than the finish line.
I told my spiritual director recently that in quiet moments, I keep thinking of finish lines, and I equate that to life, of course, but then I told her it’s not quite true. What I’m really thinking of are the last two miles before the finish. She said I’m realizing (finally) that the best and hardest part is where the work gets done. The finish line isn’t nearly as important as what you learn along the way.
It doesn’t matter what people think.
I am eighty-seven percent okay with the fact that people in cars and on sidewalks are watching my agonizingly slow run all over town every week. I know that I can’t go further if I start too fast*, so I have to almost literally crawl to get this job done. It’s a little embarrassing when I think about it, but I know why I’m running this slowly, and it’s okay if others don’t understand. They and their silent, probably-kind-but-maybe-judgmental thoughts don’t ultimately matter to this process in the least bit. I have a goal, and this is how to get it done. I’ll get faster eventually and their thoughts shouldn’t matter then, either.
*I can’t go further if I start too fast.
Having the discipline to start slow and maintain consistent speed is key to completing my long run. A lot of that discipline begins before I even step out the door. I have to be organized in planning out my route. I have to plan my eating and hydration. I have to check my shoes and choose my clothing carefully for the weather. I have to have my gummies ready and my music chosen. Starting off a long run is slow and it takes work, but the slow start is crucial. I’ve heard it said that success is where preparation and opportunity meet, and that’s obviously applicable to running, other sports, and most of what we accomplish in life.
Sometimes things just flow.
It is the best feeling to just run and not realize you’re running. Pretty skies, a little mist, and just the right song can accomplish that, and it feels like grace. On a long run, you sometimes can have what’s called a ‘runner’s high’, and I think that means the feeling that it’s automatic, happening outside of your control, a ‘bird’s eye view’. Whatever you call it, it feels like cooperation and not work, and it’s how I always want to feel all the time about everything. Feeling it in life is even better than feeling it on a run.
You can do things you thought were impossible.
For real, I couldn’t run thirty seconds straight when I started the couch-to-5K training program, and today I ran eleven miles without stopping. Isn’t it amazing to think what can happen in a life when you add hope, perseverance, and time? It makes me wonder at what else I’ve discounted that I could one day try.
Your soundtrack means everything.
I have been running almost exclusively to Broadway soundtracks on these long runs, because they’re telling a story which distracts me, but also the tempos are varied and that helps me to stay in control, time-wise. Also, Broadway soundtracks contain songs that are filled with hope, yearning, challenge and slaying. That’s just what I want to listen to as I do something that seems impossible. I hear ‘Breathe’ from ‘In the Heights’ or ‘Say it to Me Now’ from ‘Once’, and I know I don’t’ need to have it all figured out in that moment, but I have to keep trying.
The things we listen to in life; critical or supportive voices, the noise of media, or the small still voice inside…these can foretell our success or failure as well. Learning to listen to what is life-giving is something I’ve been working on a lot out on the road and in my everyday. I can tell you from experience, it’s worth the editing.
It will be over soon.
Running long, like life, can get painful and discouraging at times, but I try to remind myself that it will be over soon and to put my shoulders down and enjoy the view. While I have undergone this training process, I have seen countless skies and trees and smiling faces. I have experienced the benevolence of good people. I have felt my lungs and heart expand. It’s been really good and I’ve learned a lot, and I can say the same about my life. And, hey, the finish line is coming for all of us. Since all of it will be over sooner than we think, why not enjoy the ride?
Finally, I’m learning that with work comes reward. According to my running app, I burned over a thousand calories on my run today, so I think I will eat ice cream and watch Top Chef for the second time (it’s Restaurant Wars, for goodness sake!) and count my blessings. I have a body that can feel this tired, chocolate ice cream, green tea, and kind people who will read these words all the way to the end. In the long run, what more could I possibly need?