I've always said I have my most spiritual moments when on a run.
Some say that it is hard to feel the Spirit if you have distractions like TV or music, but I beg to differ. At least for me. At least yesterday. Eminem might not be anyone else's choice to listen to, but his beat is the perfect leg speed and it was easy for me to fall into a good cadence and just think.
When I started running again 4 years ago, I was doing 5k's. Most every weekend. A 5k race or even a 10k, but I kept them short. And speedy. I was placing in my age group, coming home with winner swag and having a great time.
Over the past two years, my training has changed and I'm going more for distance. I quickly found, much to my discouragement, that my speed decreased as my endurance increased. I understood the trade off. Not that marathon runners can't be fast, there are many who are, I just wasn't going to be one of those. Not this season anyway, but that's for another time.
As I observed the past couple of longer distance events, I have paid a lot of attention to the runners themselves.
We are an odd bunch. Who gets up at crazy wack times in the morning just to run? Who ices down, soothes aches and pains only to turn around and do it all again the next day? It's a rare breed, the runner is. And I have come to notice the difference between a short distance runner and a long distance runner.
At the start of the sprint race, most racers are sizing up the competition. Who looks like they are my age category? Who do I need to beat? How can I make sure I place in the top three? And then when the gun goes off it's usually a fairly fast dash at the start. Elbowing, some maneuvering around bodies to position for a quick take off out of the crowd. As the short distance runner passes or gets passed he pays attention to the person. Are they in my age group? Do I need to get past them to place? For those of us that are competitive, it's all about what I have to do to finish in the top three of my age group. Even for those not very competitive it's always a treat to see how well you did in comparison to others your age.
At the start of a marathon, things are much calmer. No jostling out of the gate, just a nice flow and easy stride while everyone settles into a comfortable pace. If we look around at each other, it's to either chat to pass the time, or check out what new water belt someone is sporting. The most important thing a long distance runner is concerned with is his watch. The pace, the time, the heart rate.
Whereas the short distance is about the competition, the long distance is about oneself.
Thus, my epiphany:
I hit 45 years old this year. That's older than I remember my mom being my whole life. You know how you get this age for your mom stuck in your head and she never gets older than that? Yeah, my mom is 33. Forever 33. So when I turned 45, it felt old. Add the huge life changes over the past year and I've felt beaten. The marathon yesterday taught me some valuable lessons. For crying out loud, I have 5 hours of solid "in my own damn head" time - I better come out learning something good!
So much of my life has been a competition. And it always will be. It's in my nature to be competitive and to want to win. I don't think that will ever go away, it's part of what defines me. However, I decided to apply that to life. The short distance and the long distance.
Just as the short distance runner's goal is to beat the competition the long distance runners goal is to beat herself. Better her time, her pace and her finish. Too often I think we get caught up in the short distance version of life. Fast, scrambled, sizing ourselves up, seeing where we fit in, and trying to outdo each other. For me, I'm tired of that race. I'm tired of being judged. And judging others for that matter. I no longer have the stomach for a short distance race. For the jostling, the jockeying for position, the mind games of passing and being passed.
Instead, I think I am in it now more for the long run. I care only about my own watch. My own pace, time and heart rate. I want to enjoy the others I encounter along the route. I want to admire their strides, their new tools to help them and to encourage them as they encourage me.
At about mile 11, I noticed runners coming back down the trail so I knew we had a turn around ahead. Even though, my ipod was blasting, I caught a man telling me "great job - remember to conserve - it's gonna get harder"
He was ahead of me. He knew what was coming for me. He knew what to counsel me to do. I want to pay more attention to those who have been down the path before. There is much to learn from each other. We go through experiences not just to learn for ourselves, but to help others who will also face similar challenges. We need to learn from each other and share with each other, not compare as we pass.
Sometimes the course is lonely. There isn't anyone else around and you have to go it alone. You've got to love yourself enough to get yourself through some of those times of seemingly isolation. I added a favorite song to my race play list and I listened to it a couple of times back to back just to get me through some hard miles. "Beautiful" by Bette Midler. Sure, I change some words when I am with my Young Women, but yesterday I was singing it out loud. Why are we so hard on ourselves? Why do we find every little thing wrong and turn it into major flaws? Why is it so hard to just love ourselves? Women in particular are just down right mean to ourselves and each other for that matter. Sometimes life is too hard to go it alone. The miles are lonely. Not only do we have to love ourselves enough to be alone with ourselves, but then we need to be a friend to the other lonely ones. We need to cut ourselves and each other some slack. Not every mile is a pretty, easy, friendly, fun mile. But it's a mile nonetheless and deserves the same respect as the next.
Some miles are easy. We catch a break in life now and then, and we can sort of 'coast through', but always, always, be prepared for the hill that could be right around the corner. Sometimes the hill is simply too steep to run. The only way to get to the top is to walk it. Some challenges in life are so hard, so painful that we can barely get through it. As long as we are walking. Moving forward. Crawling if necessary, we will eventually get to the top of the hill. And for some of us, it's only to be met with yet ANOTHER "hill"
Sometimes the discouragement is so strong it can overwhelm us. We want to quit. We're sure we can't do it. And then, there is an aid station in sight. A minute to stop, rehydrate, get some food, stretch, and maybe cool down a bit. Church on Sunday's seem to be my aid station. A day to settle down, take a breather and focus on the long range goal.
But then, we just start running again. One foot after the other. Some miles we have great leg turnover. Some legs, we are shuffling. For the long distance runner, that's okay - it's a long race. It will all work out in the end - just keep track of the time and watch your pace.
As I watched the injured man hobble early on, I wondered how he was possibly going to finish. I looked at the DNF list and didn't see anyone I thought could be him. I'm guessing he did it. Sometimes we get hurt and we could easily pull ourselves out. Instead, do we have what it takes to push through despite the challenge? Are we there to encourage those that are injured? We can't run the course for them, but we can be a cheerleader. And everyone needs a cheerleader.
We are watched all the time whether we realize it or not. What message do we send about ourselves? As Splenda and I were just hanging around the end, a couple passed by and caught my attention. She congratulated me and I congratulated them. She told me that they had been behind me a good portion of the run and that she was very impressed I didn't litter. And then they walked away.
I didn't litter? Wha? I had to rack my brains to remember that back at mile 19, when I opened a pack of shot-bloks that instead of tossing the wrapper like everyone else, I just ran with it in my hand until the next garbage can, then I pulled off the course, stopped long enough to toss it and then got back on. To me it was no big deal, and I had no idea anyone was even paying attention.
Others are watching us all the time. We are walking examples of something. What will that something be for you?
By the time I saw the finish line, I needed Splenda there. I needed to see him. I didn't hear his voice (things were pretty numb everywhere), but just knowing he was there was enough for me. I knew I could sprint the last couple hundred of feet because he would catch me if I fell.
I have a Savior in Jesus Christ who will be at my finish line after this long marathon of life. He will catch me if I fall. I just have to keep pushing mile after mile. Hill after hill. Sometimes I am the cheerleader, other times I am being cheered on. I will love myself enough to do the hard miles alone. I have the aid stations weekly to refuel and re-focus. I will no longer worry about being passed, passing someone else or placing in my age division.
My focus is on my watch. My pace. My time. My heart rate. Making sure that I better myself.
In the end, whenever that comes, I will cross the finish line sprinting, knowing I kept my focus on the long distance of eternity and not the short sprint of just this life alone.
And bonus feature - if you aren't already a Divine Miss M fan, you should be