Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Marathon in Miniature

I lied in that last post! I wasn't back! But now I am.

Last Saturday, I went to the Smith Park where the Dam Marathon was being hosted. I got there, with Ender sagging on my hip, just as the last runners came trotting in. They looked tired, but instead of sagging like my baby who refused to hold his own weight, they didn't bother slowing down (or speeding up). They'd reached their steady pace.
I've only ever reached that edge of endurance once. Swimming. My turn to swim the 500 in a meet for the first time. Just before I reached the half-mark, I felt like I'd honestly throw up and die, right there in the water. Images came to mind of the coach and fellow swimmers peering into the pool at my raggedy, floating body. They'd scratch their heads and say in wonder, "but the 500 isn't that hard!" But I kept swimming. No barfing, to my surprise. No dying, to my surprise. And everything changed. Suddenly it felt good. I could do this forever. I could swim and swim and swim...slowly, but forever. In fact, I didn't even realize when the 500 had been reached. I flip-turned and glided on, smiling quietly to myself. Why was everyone shouting?
Oh. I was done.
I watched these Dam runners thinking it must be the same for them. I wished it were the same for me. I want to run a marathon!
As the winners' names were announced for fastest, most enthusiastic, fastest in age group, etc., I thought of Rae. She's going to run a marathon! I already feel proud of her for declaring it a decided goal. Would I dare even start such a goal? I couldn't ever say I'd do it and then NOT do it--that would be worse. Worse than trying. And worse than trying would be to not finish.
I've actually been encouraged with running for most of my life. As a kid I was unashamedly good at it. Fast, full of energy to spare. As I got older--into those blessed teen years--I slowed down. My excuse was being heavy-chested. How could I run without proper restraint? I'd get a black eye!!! But Liz and Pat were excited for my goals (to run every day, super fast, super far, surprising everyone including myself). I ran with them one day and realized I had a looooong way to go. I pretended it was because Pat had run a marathon and Liz had been in track all through high school. But Rae and Phill were supportive, too. Phill bought me the best running gear I'd ever owned. Rae believed I could do it because she could. I told myself that because I loved running, I could do it.
A lot of people love music and fail as musicians.
I forgot running (almost) and joined the swim team. I love swimming, always have. I'm not the fastest, but I have beautiful technique--especially with the stroke deemed most difficult: The Butterfly. When I first learned it, I grinned up and down the lane. I felt like...a worm. With batman wings. But as it came together more fluidly, I felt like I melded with the water, bursting out to fly and leap across the surface again and again. Three freedom-gulping explosions before I even cared to breathe! With The Butterfly, the coach placed me in lane #1. The fastest.
After that, it didn't matter that all my other strokes lived in lane #6. The slowest (and I always came in last out of those four or five girls). Who cared? I was the butterfly of swimmers.
In the corner of my mind, I always envied the cross country kids or track kids. Even the football players, since they had to run for their training. Even after a year of Pilates and a semester of serious swim practice, I had no endurance for running. It hurt in more than physical ways.

All this I've recounted as prelude to today's little victory: I ran.

After watching the marathoners, I thought what a rewarding accomplishment that run must have been for them. I wanted the same proof of willpower. What would it take?
Over the weekend, I began to compare running to my spiritual progress. As the thought sat brewing in my mind, I realized that had to be the key. And why running instead of swimming? Swimming is easy. If you stop mid-lane, you sink! Not much choice there. Running is hard. You can stop any time you want. Hear the Satanic appeal? Mmmm, stopping, yes.
So I determined to run a few times a week. Know what happened last time I decided that? I jumped outside and shot off across the sidewalk, happy that I had to tell myself to slow down. I jogged and jogged and ran and ran and then realized I didn't feel too good. No, not at all. Maybe my time was almost up. I looked at my clock: I had been running four minutes.

Today I voiced my goal as a destination rather than time. I wanted to run up to the temple. Don't laugh at me...yes, I live really close to the temple. Across campus. And only one side of campus. RIDICULOUSLY close. I can save just a pinch of pride by pointing out that it's very uphill.

While I ran, I chose to look for spiritual symbolism, grateful for the privacy of thought while passing people who might think a) it's stupid I think such a short distance is such a big deal, b) those are stupid and obvious comparisons and c) that I am way out of shape if this is such a struggle.
But here is what happened to me.

I hopped down the front steps and shoved into an easy jog. I had started! Wasn't that half the battle? Wasn't it? I smiled as I coasted along the sidewalk, proud to look like any jogger in town. I ignored my quickening breath and reminded myself that I wanted to do this without stopping. My music plodded me onward. Just around the corner, I felt the strain of every muscle complaining loudly. My pace slowed so much that my jog accomplished less forward motion than walking. I seemed to be going more up and down than anywhere in front of me. But the point? I kept going. If I were to compare this to my spiritual progress, I wouldn't want to say that I stopped. I never stop.
I realized with surprise that my legs weren't so tired. My lungs were the thing killing me. I diligently made my comparisons: my legs are the effort, the day-to-day motions of life. My lungs are the intent, the sincerity and heart of life. I felt a little sad to imagine doing the right things without feeling the right things, but it happens. And it is actually good. I trusted that eventually my lungs would catch up with my legs. It is part of faith to keep trying even when you see no growth.
After a few blocks, my lungs constricted so badly that I stopped to breathe. I bent over and concentrated on inflating them as far as possible, trying not to dwell on the fact I had broken my promise to myself. But even this turned into a spiritual "tada" for me. I've hit spiritual mesas before. There have been a number of times that I wondered why I saw no progress. Wasn't I being righteous? Wasn't I sincerely diligent? What was this pause all about?
I believe those times are a trial of their own sort. A way of testing us--will we go on even if it looks like there is no reason or hope? And I have. So remembering this, I stood straight with recovered lungs and continued running.
Two more times I did this, the last when I was so close to the temple I wondered why the sight of my goal wasn't enough to keep me going the last bit. I simply had to breathe.
It was there, my goal. I could see it, I knew I'd get there. But in all my humanness, I had to wait just a little before my body would let me go on.
Isn't that a lot like life? I want so many things so badly. I have to wait for some of them--I had to wait (not long, admittedly) to find the right man before I could actually get married. What a mistake it would have been to step ahead of myself!
And again, as before, I started to run once my lungs recovered a little. As I crossed the street, I turned my head up to the commanding presence of the temple and grinned. The driver waiting at my side didn't likely know that this was a major accomplishment of a relatively tiny goal. I jogged to the temple. I made it!
With moist eyes, I crumpled to the sidewalk and sat smiling at the temple. I easily could have looked silly. In fact, I'm pretty sure I did since I discovered while changing at home that my sports bra had traveled up and beyond, abandoning the weaker bra underneath. How embarrassing.
I bent my head down and thought of what it had taken to make myself really run. Turning my mp3 off (yeah, I'm not as cool as those iPod people), I realized it had helped me focus. I had used the music to keep pace, keep moving. Life needs focus. And a funny thought hit me. Or maybe it just felt funny to my sweaty brain--when I run, everything gets sweaty. It didn't get easier as I passed the last distance to the temple. Not even the last few feet. It was the same pulling strain, the same effort up to the moment I collapsed to the ground. So what was different?
Even before I'd truly gotten there, I'd made it! There it was, there I was! I saw the temple and knew I'd get there.
And getting there, the halfpoint, was even more than half the battle. The rest was downhill!

I still paused a few times on my way down. I kept comparing and found lots of ways to look at running as a symbol of life. Going down can be hard because it's so easy to go too fast. But I could pause when I needed to. This reminded me of Heavenly Father's gentle ways in guiding me; He'd never make me go faster than I can. He'd only push me as much as I asked.
That made me want to ask for more, to say "but I really can do it! Show me how I can do it!"
Along the way, I realized a true principle was at work: my lungs felt fine! My legs were tired! But the strength of my lungs made it easier to keep going, no matter how clumsily my legs threatened to trip me! It's true, isn't it? If we keep exercising our faith, we'll catch up with ourselves and finally gain testimony of the truth. My lungs not only caught up with my legs but surpassed their strength.
I believe the spiritual drive of our sincerity and love is what pulls us through the most difficult of trials. It is perhaps not as necessary for the smaller trials. In those, we just need to prove we'll keep going. But in harder trials, keeping a strong heart is the real force behind winning.

Arriving at my house, I considered going through the back door (closer than the front). Passed it. Cut across the grass? Made the sharp-angled turn. Walk up the steps? Hopped up them with as much energy as I'd hopped down at the beginning of my run.
I opened the door and fell to the carpet. Ohhhhh, it took so much effort to turn over when I realized I didn't want to lie on my face. I breathedbreathedbreathed breathed breathed breeeeeathed..... would Rae laugh at me? She runs like running is nothing to her willpower. Is this unhealthy? Would a doctor discourage me from running if he saw what a spasm it puts my lungs in?
I burned. I breathed. I didn't move. I didn't like the idea of doing this again. Hadn't I made enough comparisons?
But I had already asked myself what I'd do for my next run when I was a block away from home. I believe I will always find a way to connect running to life, whether in a grand scheme way or whether running will feel like a mirror of one specific day.
Today's little run took 30 minutes. It felt like a miniature version of a marathon! Besides, a dictionary definition of the marathon is this: any contest, event, or the like, of great or greater than normal length or duration requiring exceptional endurance. Well then, by my standards and past experiences, I have just run a marathon.

And some day, I will run a real marathon. It will probably take me a few years to be ready. But I will do it.
I still don't want to think about running again on Thursday. Oh, barf. Barf barf barf.