A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog post about the “life is a marathon” analogy. I said that I thought that marathon training was a better metaphor for life in general, while the marathon itself was a better comparison for specific life situations. At that point, I hadn’t run a full marathon, so I didn’t feel I was qualified to have an opinion about running the actual 26.2 miles.
Now, having completed my marathon, I feel quite qualified to make my stance clear: I agree with my earlier assumption. Having endured the physical, mental, and emotional challenge of a marathon, I can knowledgeably say… GOOD GRIEF, if you lived your life as a marathon, your life certainly wouldn’t be very long!
I may be taking this too literally, but I think I’ve earned the right. Just the fact that we sleep close to 1/3 of every 24 hours (and that your body will make you sleep whether you like it or not) gets in the way of my seeing life as a marathon. During a marathon, you might stop for a few seconds to drink or shed a layer of clothing. Still, you’re constantly on the go, heading for that next mile marker. Even if you live life at a fast pace… in my mind, it just doesn’t compare to the nonstop focused energy of a marathon.
Still, I do think that the experience of a marathon has some lessons for seasons of life when you are constantly moving towards an end and the necessity of moving forward just doesn’t let up. In reading my race reflections, try to think of a situation when this has or will be true for you. Some general examples that come to mind are moving, working on a large project (academically or at a job), or a major life change.
- Don’t be distracted by others’ races. You know the distance that you have to go and how to uniquely pace yourself for that distance. Previous to my marathon, I’d run two half-marathons and been part of two relay marathons. Particularly in the relay marathons, I always felt a little bad passing people who were gutting out the entire marathon themselves. For this marathon, I was one of those people running the entire race. It was tempting to try to keep up with one of the half-marathon pacers (people who run the race for a specific time to help you keep your pace)… and also tempting to start out at a pace similar to people who wouldn’t be running the entire marathon. If I gave in to that temptation, however, I jeopardized my chances of finishing the entire race. Similarly, I knew that there were plenty of people running the full marathon that would be faster than me. I could keep up with them for a few miles, but I would regret it later. My point: People around you may seem to navigate situations in life “faster” or “better” than you feel you are. They’re not you, and their situation is not yours. Run your own race.
- At the same time, know that others face similar (if not the same) challenges. You are not alone. When you’re in a difficult situation (whether it’s one you’ve chosen or not), it’s easy to forget that other people around you either have faced or are facing similar challenges. I was reminded of this early on in my race. As I read the t-shirt of a woman running in front of me, I realized that she was running in memory of her brother who had passed away last April (my dad passed away last April, too). I thought about saying something to her, but knew I wouldn’t be able to hold myself together emotionally if I did. Still, it was a helpful reminder I’m not alone in my grief. You’re not the only one in your situation, either.
- Let others run alongside you when they can. No one can run your race for you–or get through your life situation for you–but people can run alongside you. As I approached my toughest hill (at about mile 21!), my sister jumped in and ran up the hill with me. I’m pretty sure I would have walked that hill otherwise. I would have made it up, but it was much more bearable to have her beside me. Soon after she returned to the sidelines, a friend from my running group joined me for the last four or five miles. If you’ve ever talked to anyone who has run a marathon, you know that those last miles are the hardest… when you’re pushing your body to do more than it’s ever done before. It made a huge difference just to have someone to talk to (even if my talking was just, “Haven’t we seen mile marker 24 yet?!). You have to do what you have to do… but you don’t have to do it alone.
- Ultimately, you’re the only one who can run your race. There’s no getting around it. As much as others can help, comfort, and encourage, you have to put one foot in front of the other. Sometimes, that means gutting it out. You can’t live all of life drawing on your last bits of strength to just move forward, but there are times that you have to push yourself so you can get to the point where you can rest… even if only until the next race.