“Okay, you’re almost there, give it one last push!” Her excitement mixed with my adrenaline rush was as potent as the energy gels I’d be slurping down for the last hour.
With her poignant declaration around mile 25, I dropped into a place where I had gone many times before-during the births of my four children, while launching creative projects, taking on risky endeavors, and during emotionally and physically draining spans of life. I mined for any hidden strength inside me, then quickened my stride, flinging myself toward the coveted finish line.
Some may look at running 26.2 miles as pure insanity, or an epic accomplishment, but to me running my first marathon confirmed the hunch I had all along- life requires us to adopt a long-haul mentality. No matter who you are, runner or not, it makes no difference, all of us are ambling along a convoluted course.
The question becomes how do we survive, complete, and dare I say enjoy, this often grueling road? What are some ways we can stay in it for the long haul?
I have two ideas for us taken directly from my experiences as a runner over the last 30 years.
The first way to become a “long-hauler” is to find your pacers throughout life, even one can be enough.
The moment I showed up at the starting line of the marathon, I found the person who would be my pacer and joined a group of others who would be running at a similar speed.
If I think back over the greatest accomplishments in my life, they all happened within the chemistry of simple camaraderie. Before my belly even popped out, I found a midwife to convince me I was strong enough to grow and deliver a 7-pound fully formed human and also learned my body was designed for such a feat.
Pacers, like midwives or any cherished guides or trusted friends, are witnesses first and foremost. They take notice of our work, give attention to our growth, listen to our breathing, observe our stride, and acknowledge our efforts. With every step they strive to see you and almost like magic, we suddenly become crazy enough to think we can do the impossible thing we signed up for. We meet our true selves in their presence, and we sink our teeth into the thickest, juiciest parts of life that we might have avoided otherwise.
Pacers dodge any pedestal like the plague. They only want to run beside you through the stinging rain, offer simple, memorable mantras to move you to the top of the hill. “Pump your arms,” she encouraged me, and then she drifted into the background.
Pacers have the wisdom to know when to step back and nudge us from behind, and when to pull forward and break the whipping winds. They scout out the curvy path watching for trippy terrain, and they aren’t afraid to let everyone know, “There’s someone coming! She’s pushing out a dream. Offer her some space, cheer her on!”
Surround yourself with people who are wild about the human spirit, who are enamored with the beauty of your tenacity in the face of life’s battering waves, people who seek to unveil the endless possibilities lurking within you and aren’t disturbed by your obvious flaws or sloppy form.
They speak carefully and instill courage in you with only a few sentences. Their easy stride and relaxed arms seem to say, Life doesn’t always have to be a grind.
Writer Melissa Harris-Perry advocates for what she terms “squad care” over self-care, “Squad care reminds us there is no shame in reaching for each other and insists the imperative rests not with the individual, but with the community. Our job is to have each other’s back.”
Or as the African proverb says, “If you want to go fast, go alone, if you want to go far, go together.”
But we’re all wondering just how far we need to go, “Where is that damn finish line?” We want to know because we want to be prepared, and to know how much to give and when.
Thus, the second way to become a long-hauler is to abandon our obsession with ever reaching a final destination.
Life is constantly stretching us beyond our well-marked paths. Life is an unending course, a series of fleeting finish lines enticing us into yet another new beginning.
We will all die with unused potential and possibilities still locked up within us, but today we have the choice to join the enduring invitation to continue evolving, reaching towards more love, connection, and wholeness.
I imagine each of us in a delivery room offering the world our whole flailing, shrieking selves. Here I am! We cry out hoping it won’t just reverberate off the white walls and back into our scared hearts. If we must be thrown into this blinding bright and daunting mystery, then our one primal hope is that we can experience the welcoming touch of another fellow human.
Regardless of whether we’ve ever given birth to an actual child or run a race, each of us knows what is to feel our legs wanting to give out, our body thinking it might collapse under exhaustion, our heart contemplating hopelessness, our breath short and constricted. We are human; the nature of our very existence is to endure, to bring forth life no matter what, to see what we can make of these finite days.
We secretly love it when the sweat trickles down the side of our forehead; we can’t believe we are this strong. We enjoy the glow radiating off our faces when we know we’ve completed what we set out to accomplish no matter how scrappy the steps were to get there.
Rob Bell writes, “The one thing that unites people I know who are on satisfying paths… they kept trying things, kept exploring, kept searching…and then from there they never stop figuring it out.”
Kept on. Never stopped. Hear that?
Ready or not, we will all move through millions of perceived start and finish lines throughout life, so it’s in our best interest to pace each other, whispering the truth back and forth across the way, “You were made to sweat and weep and stick it out even when you can’t seem to figure it out. We are long-haulers and though we can’t map the course perfectly or know how any of this will unfold, we can most certainly keep on running together.”
This poem by Mary Oliver