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.