It’s a cliche for a reason; because it’s true. Most people are familiar with marathons, a 26.2-mile race, in a metaphorical sense. They are a very long event that takes a lot of preparation and mental fortitude yadda yadda yadda. And yet, they are among the best examples that a consistent amount of effort, applied over a significant amount of time, can lead to great things.
In addition to training for endurance events, spending time with family, having a large social circle, and dabbling in various fiber-related hobbies, I am also going to school. I happen to work in an office where the majority of people roughly my age have their masters. 10+ years out of high school, and I am working on my final class to finish my AA. I am lucky enough that I get some tuition reimbursement, so the fact that I am going to school inevitably comes up from time to time. “Oh! Where are you going to school?” is the excited response. Their face falls slightly when I say that I’m going to the local community college. “Oh.., well… um… good for you!”
It’s whatever. I know the truth. I know that I started out at that same community college right out of high school. I was in college more-or-less because I was “college-aged”. I didn’t know why I was in school or what I wanted to study. And although I could manage the coursework, I often prioritized my coffee-shop job and my social life ahead of my classes, struggling through my first few semesters. At one point, I actually registered for a full load of classes, and then didn’t show up once. It was just too hard to make it to 8 am classes when I wasn’t getting home from work until midnight the night before. After that semester, I finally called a spade a spade and withdrew from school. Conveniently, about the same time, I was promoted at my coffee-shop job. My hard work paid off, just not where I expected.
Ten years later, I was back in school at the same local community college. It took me about 5 years to figure out what I wanted to study; why I was in school; how it could help me instead of just going through the motions. It took me another 5 years to figure out how to get there. And since I work full time, am an endurance athlete, and have a full social calendar, I know I only have it in me to take 1-2 classes per semester. Slow and steady, just like my running. How fitting.
Slow and steady. My mantra. My MO. I will do the thing, but it will take me some time. But in the end, it will be done, so does it really matter? Is an AA done in 10 years of classes worth less than one done in 2? Is a marathon in 10 hours really less of an achievement than one done in 2? I would argue no. In fact, I may even argue that it’s harder in some ways. If you can manage a 10 minute/mile pace for a marathon, you’d still be done under 5 hours. When I did my first marathon, it was a walking marathon. I knew I would be out there for over 8 hours, covering the miles step-by-step. What awaited me was a cold, drizzly, windy day to battle through rural Minnesota for my medal. I wanted to quit so many times; honestly, if I hadn’t done the event with my best friend, I probably would have. Just under ten hours later, we finally crossed the finish line. I’ve never been so ecstatic to be done with something. “I never need to do that again.” I said. And I meant it, at the time.
A few short weeks later, I dreamed up my Deconstructed Iron Triathlon: three events (2.4-mile swim, 100-mile bike ride, and a walking marathon) to be completed over the course of a summer. (Because I am a glutton for punishment.) These events together are meant to replicate an Ironman Triathlon, an event that is hallowed by triathletes. I am not at that level yet, but these are the steps I can take now, in the body I am in today.
And really that’s what it’s all about. A marathon can be a metaphor for life, but training for one will teach you about life. About the immeasurable power of taking consistent action, no matter how small, over time. And the magic that unleashes.
So here’s to all the marathons we run in life. May they pave paths to richer experiences, and personal growth, and all that other good stuff.