Once upon a time I was a runner. After several years of false starts, I decided to complete the New York City Marathon the Fall before my 30th birthday.
I learned through the process that you had to submit everything to it—your mental, emotional, nutritional, physical, time, sleep, all of it—to train your body to conquer 26.2 miles safely.
I finished the NYC Marathon in just over 6 hours and 30 minutes in 2014. We had a headwind the whole day. I woke up before dawn and crossed the finish line after dark, when they were starting to break down parts of the course, etc. I still contend that more amazing than finishing the 26.2 miles was the fact that I had crossed, on foot, from Staten Island, across Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan, and into the Bronx (and that was only mile 20!).
I learned lessons while striving to reach that goal that are guiding me today, just over five years later, in this crisis moment that feels very similar to endurance and long-distance training. This moment requires more than all we can give, and then even more than that. Here are some lessons I learned and tested during the five months training that I find myself leaning on again today.
- Trust your training. We can’t predict what the weather will be come race day, but hopefully we’ve trained through some of the elements before. Remember the lessons of past austere moments and use them now. Remember the community who held you in previous moments of grief—call on them. Remember what brought you joy and hope and creativity—make room for it, even and especially now.
- Start out strong, but not fast. Sometimes adrenaline tricks us into believing we have more “fuel” in the tank than we do. Folks who start out with record time for the first few miles will undoubtedly hit “The Wall” faster and harder. This is the tortoise and hare theory. The tortoise measured his exertion and was able to finish the race strong (note: this process also ensures a faster recovery!). Folks who immediately went virtual with the bulk of their programming—is this a long term strategy? Can we pause and strategize toward sustainability, now that we know we’re in this for the long haul?
- Have a personal cheer squad. Starting mile 7, I had someone meet me to give me a snack (refueling my tank!) every three miles until the end of the race. Some even ran with me. The marathon is an individual race, yes, and also a collective one. Your community can propel you forward, as my cheer squad helped me cope with mounting exhaustion and pain.
There’s more of course, but I hope you get a sense of how I’m trusting my own training, calling on my community, and embracing the tortoise side of myself. It’s the only way I can avoid hitting “The Wall”—the inevitable moment when, during a marathon, physical and mental capacity breaks down. Though all I want from life, especially now, is to be a hare, I need to be more careful with my energy and resources when so many groups, family, friends might depend pon me more than usual.
That, and obsessing over my vegetable garden on a daily basis, are helping me navigate for now. 🙂
Tell me, what are some of your techniques you’re leaning on more these days? What training are you trusting?