Monday, March 28, 2016

I can keep going

I had a thought while I was running the other morning.

(Let's pause for a second. Forgive me, but I'm going to talk about running again. And I hate to start a post with an apology, but I know that talking about running is one of those things sort of universally acknowledged by non-runners to be truly annoying, and that most people [probably justifiably] read the phrase "While I was running the other day…" to be, not an ordinary introductory clause, but a thinly disguised statement better translated as "HEY LOOK AT ME! I RUN! I'M A RUNNER! PRAISE ME!"

I accept and acknowledge your pain, but the fact remains that much of my semi-coherent thought occurs while I'm running. I realize don't need to SAY "while I was running," to comment on the thoughts themselves. However, this thought has, itself, to DO with running, so I'm forced to include the context.)

Ahem! Here is the thought. But wait, no, I will back up even more. When I was younger, I used to be so MAD about the effort it took to stay in physical shape. The…entropy of it all, I guess, for lack of a better word. I could spend weeks and months, miles and miles, hill and stair repeats, tears and sweat, making myself stronger and faster. And then I could take a couple weeks off and it would all be gone.

Not totally gone, I guess, but noticeably and appreciably diminished. It used to frustrate me no end. It just exhausted me to think of the effort it would take throughout my life to even maintain my fitness level, let alone increase it—and, of course, this was even before I had children. It seemed so unfair! No matter HOW much work I did as an 18-year-old, if I ever stopped running for a period of time later on in life, all that work would be for NOTHING. (This was my thinking, at the time.)

Well, I got older and had a couple thousand children and it was all just as I feared. I tried to keep running. But my efforts were sporadic and interrupted and paltry. Inside I still feel like a runner. But for fourteen years now, if I'm honest, I haven't had any real justification for calling myself one.

Just as I was afraid of: all those long runs, all those races, what feels like that other life when I was "a runner"—a real runner—they are gone now, and they do me no good. Every time I manage to start running again—as I recover from having a baby, or stop nursing, or feel like maybe I can drag myself out of bed, or whatever it is—I start anew. Just like a beginner. Just like someone who is doing this all for the first time.

And yet here is what I realized the other day, plodding along on my morning run. I DID keep something from all those years, all those miles. Not muscle mass or lung capacity. Something that maybe seems like no big deal, but actually IS a big deal:

I know I can keep going.

That's it! That's what 20+ years of running (or, if you prefer, "running") has bought me. Every time I start again, I know I don't have to stop just because it's hard. I know I can keep going. It's true on a micro level: in a few blocks, my breathing will regularize itself and I'll settle into a pace and it will get easier. It's true on a macro level too: in a few months, I'll be able to increase my distance and it will get easier. It's my only advantage over a true beginner, but it's a big one! I don't give up easily, because I've done it all before. I've pushed through the pain before. I've improved before. Why not now? Why not again?

And I've been thinking just how valuable that knowledge has been to me. In some strange way, the fact that I've had to start over from nothing so many times—that quick fall-off in ability that so infuriated me when I was younger—is the very thing that gives me strength. Every time I start again, I recognize that hopeless feeling of "oh man, I'm NEVER going to make it through this!" and I can almost…laugh at it! Because I always do just keep going (and here I define "keep going" as "eventually, even if it's a year later, I try again"). And I always DO make it through, and it always DOES get easier.

The larger parallels to this discovery are, I'm sure, obvious. But let me explicate some of them all the same: it's been immensely valuable during, for example, labor and childbirth, for me to think, "I know I can keep going." It always gets to a point where it feels impossible and you just…hang on. And you do it. Or during times when a child seems particularly impossible to parent. "I can keep going. I have before. It will get better." And it always seems to, eventually.

Then there are the emotional applications. Even with just the regular ups and downs of life going on, sometimes I feel like I'm sinking beneath deep water. I know I can swim up. I even know how. But it takes a certain amount of effort and sometimes I just lack the energy. I'm not talking about any kind of major depression—I don't pretend to have any insight into that. But just the day-to-day stuff: feeling grumpy and exhausted and unappreciated and unappreciative. Knowing you should be grateful but feeling sorry for yourself instead. That sort of thing. There are times, good times, when I feel like I'm floating on top of that condition of grumpiness. It's there and I might succumb to it occasionally, but a deep breath and a kick or two will bring me out of it again. And then there are times I'm extra heavy and it pulls me under the water and I have to struggle and kick to the surface over and over again. I repeat my little phrases: "I CHOOSE to do this." "Hard things make me stronger." "Think of the things I DO have." And they do bring me up to the surface, and I breathe, and I feel better. But only temporarily, and then I'm pulled back down into disgruntled-ness again.

I guess these times also remind me of the entropy of things, of the constant struggle required to stave off chaos. And it can seem unfair. Can't we ever just rest? Can't we take a break from effort without losing everything? And having to start over?

But I just keep going back to that hard-won truth I learned through running.
I can keep going.
And how would I know that if I hadn't kept going?
So, I keep going.

13 comments:

  1. This is terrific--particularly because I am currently feeling very large and waddle-y, and I was just thinking today, "What if I deliver this baby and I am still just a slug sitting on my couch? What if I never get my energy back again and my muscles continue to atrophy and I just plod around for the rest of my life?" I knew I was being overdramatic and ridiculous. But I'm still so pleased to hear that you are running because that gives me all kinds of hoping that maybe I can get running again, too.

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    1. It's so hard, especially at the end of pregnancy…and the first few months of a newborn…and assorted other times. :) Really I've found I don't feel on top of things (to the extent I EVER do) until the baby's a year old. But then things usually seem slightly easier.

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  2. I have spent the last nearly 8 years fighting for help for my autistic daughter who also developed mental illness, and trying to hold my family together. I may have gained 20 lbs of stress, but I never quit running! It's been the one thing that has kept me going. I run 20+ miles a week and I am a strong runner. I'm not fast, but I don't quit! It has taught me that I can keep going, every time we hit another obstacle, I can keep going. I may break down and bawl for a moment or two, but I pick myself up and keep going because I'm a runner. I have a sticker on my car that reads "I know I run like a girl. Try to keep up." To me that means we never quit! Running taught me that!

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  3. Thanks for writing this! This knowledge is one of the reasons I keep running and hope I will always be a runner. It us one of the things I think when someone tells me I'm crazy for running all the time. It's mostly nothing about physical activity!

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    1. Thanks, Amy! I agree! It can be mental and spiritual health as much as physical! :)

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  4. Well. I love this. It's one of those things that, reading, it seems so . . . "Well, yes, of course." Because I know it. And yet I don't know that I've thought it in actual words or brought it to the front of my conscious thought. It is different when I can barely run three miles. It doesn't occur to me that that means I can't work up to twenty. Of course I can. And maybe I wouldn't know that if I hadn't started at that and gone further over and over. I'm just saying the same exact things you said. ;) But lovely. And the applications. It reminds me of J. Smith saying trials had become second nature to him. Maybe it was this. Not that they weren't painful. Not that they weren't hard. But that he knew he could swim through them over and over.

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    1. I love that Joseph Smith quote. It always made me feel a bit sad/sorry for him before, but in this context it seems almost comforting! And hopeful.

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  5. Interesting--I love your insights to life. I have thought a lot about my children's need to eat constantly. CONSTANTLY--like three times a day every single stinking day. (Excuse the language--I've been pregnant eight times and each and every time the major life battle became feeding people--my own Everest or Sisyphus.) As much as it annoys me and sometimes overwhelms me, their very need for sustenance forces me to constantly reflect on our garments and need for "constant spiritual nourishment." It also makes me reflect on how quickly reading the scriptures (for example) makes a difference and how quickly not reading the scriptures makes a difference. I can go without food--I did it for the six years I was in college when I was too busy to eat regularly, but my children must be fed. Physically, spiritually--and I am in charge of the nourishment. These insights are profound and so rooted in our mortalness--lessons we couldn't learn without the physical, back-breaking, pain-experiencing mortality. Enough from me. Thank you for your lovely words.

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    1. "Excuse the language." Haha. SO true about the food. I love to eat but I also love the freedom NOT to eat when I feel like it, and with kids you don't get that freedom. It can seem so overwhelming, but there must be something good we learn from it! Something we can't learn, as you said, any other way. And I love the application to constant spiritual nourishment. The umbilical cord connecting us to God.

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  6. Wish I had edited before I hit publish . . ..

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  7. I love these beautiful thoughts! As a "walker," I can appreciate the principle (right?).

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  8. This took me back to the times when we decided what was considered "running" and "jogging." The frustration of how quickly one becomes out of running shape is very very real. Yet, along with that-- once you become a "runner," I feel you always will be one. There is a constant draw to return to it...to continue to work towards something. Thank you for the connections to the mental, emotional, and spiritual truths that come with this comparison. I always loved running with you. :)

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