Whenever someone expresses to me their love of marathons and long distance running, I immediately envision every other thing on the planet that they could be doing with their time and wonder what could be wrong with their psyche that they prefer pain to beauty in their life. Running isn’t the best thing for you. Do it excessively, and the wear and tear on the body can be irreversible. (I’m thinking of my parents and the joint replacements that I will eventually inherit.) Nevertheless, I recently found myself inspired by a colleague and dear friend to use such potentially debilitating foolishness as a way to bump up my cardio.
I was interviewed recently for the NYC Theatre blog People You Should Know. And when I was asked to name some artists who have had a significant influence on my career, I found myself discussing the odd coincidence that the ones who have inspired me the most either had late starts or slower, steadier climbs up the ladder. “Fast is how it’s supposed to happen.” That’s what this industry and the world at large seem to try to communicate to us about success. Developing the stamina to run for more than 5 minutes was something that I thought I’d never be able to do, or at least assumed it would take me longer to build up to than most people. But did that mean I shouldn’t even try? Why did I decide to shoot for a 5K at this point in my life when I’ve always hated running and would rather chew glass?
To exercise patience, and to prove that I can.
The first ½ mile was definitely the hardest. “Oh my God, and I’ll have to do what I just did a total of more than six times? What the hell was I thinking? I’ll never reach that. Marathon runners can suck my--” but then I stopped myself… Everyone’s on their own journey and life’s not a competition blah blah blah yadda yadda yadda. If this is where I’m at in my life, there’s a lesson in this experience here and now that I’m supposed to learn. When I quit smoking, I remember two things that helped immensely with that process: being nicer to myself, and taking it one day at a time. Each day as I made my way to the gym, I told myself that I had to do at least a ½ mile (this is all with no walking breaks, BTDubs). Everything after that would be measured in increments of 0.05, which at the pace I run takes me roughly 38-40 seconds to do. I can run for another 38-40 seconds. That’s a hell of a lot easier than another minute, or 5 minutes, or 2 and a half miles! Breaking the goals down into smaller amounts meant that before I knew it, I had another ¼ mile on the meter, then ½ mile, then 1 mile! I found that if my brain focused on the big huge thing to achieve, it felt further out of reach. But .05 miles? That’s easy! Well, not easy. But more doable.
Imagine my surprise last week when I texted my friend, “2.2 miles! Less than 1 mile to go!” Would you look at that? And then today, as I powered on and on and began feeling lightheaded around 2.6, that’s when the 40 seconds trick really came in handy. “Less than a minute… I can do it. I don’t have to do it all today, but I can go for less than a minute more.”
When 3.1 appeared on the monitor, I thought about doing another 40 seconds, but decided I deserved a rest. Slowly, I decreased the machine belt to a walking pace and beamed from ear to ear. My immediate impulse was to text my friend. I did eventually, but first I took a quiet moment to savor the sweet feeling of pride. Think about it: when was the last time you remember being actually, genuinely proud of yourself? There I was cooling down, smiling like Clark Griswold at the end of Christmas Vacation and saying to myself, “<<sigh>> I did it.”
I have absolutely no desire to run a full marathon, or even a 10K. There are too many books to read, shoes to buy, spa days to be had, etc. But I confess, I did discover a bit of serenity listening to 90’s music and watching “Teen Mom 2” as I channeled Jesse Owens for a little while. I also did a thing that I once thought I could not do. And that’s pretty awesome.
The hit-you-over-the-head moral of the story?
No matter what you might be running towards, focusing on the finish line can be overwhelming, perhaps even discouraging, and slow you down more than you realize. But 0.05? Less than a minute more? That’s how the race gets run -- one small victory lap at a time.