A few weeks ago I ran the Christopher Martin's Christmas Run for Children, an annual 5K in New Haven. The event raises money and collects toys for local families in need, which is wonderful and important. Less important but very fun? People who run this race like to dress up in festive fear, from Santa hats to full elf suits, and everyone drinks beer after.
I signed up for this race -- and hold up, side note: I know, I'm talking about running again and if you want to hear the honest truth this hurts me more than it hurts you because, as I've mentioned, I've always regarded people who talk about athletic feats with a healthy dose of skepticism to say the very least, like, who are you? I know who I am. I like to read books on the couch or, I admit it, watch television with my husband, is who I am. So, talking about running as much as I have on this blog over the last couple years, I know. I KNOW. It's weird. Just please realize that with me, it's never really about a feat. It's more about the process. Like how "Moby Dick" was actually about writing.
ANYWAY, I signed up for this race in November because I hadn't been exercising at all and I decided that knowing I had a 5K coming up with inspire me. It did, at least a little. Running in the winter, and with our schedule this year, is challenging. The best time for me to do it is early in the morning before anyone wakes up, around 5:45 am, and as anyone who lives in Connecticut knows, that hour on a cold December morning is an unpleasant time to be cognizant. I could also run later in the evenings, once J is home and the family is settling down for the evening, around 7:30 pm, but I'm much less likely to get motivated in the evening. This is a psychological truth about myself that I firmly recognize, and yet, when I'm lying in my warm bed and the alarm goes off at 5:45 am, I still think, "Hey! You could go tonight!"
The point being, I didn't run a ton before this race - a few morning and weekend runs in the month prior - but my body seems to have miraculously retained a base level of fitness following the marathon last year, and I knew I could run three miles without collapsing. So on that very cold Sunday morning, me, J and the kids (my cheering section, plus I thought they'd get a kick out of all the costumes) drove downtown and I found my place at the start line among some very serious-looking runners as well as a lot of less-serious looking runners who were already talking about the beer.
This race is a nice, easy course around New Haven, starting and ending on the eastern side of the city. I wasn't out to reach any personal goals (please be aware: I almost never am) but I also thought that maybe I'd be able to run at a decent clip, doing a little better than I'd done in the past when running 5Ks. I believed this despite the fact that I had barely been running, not regularly at all since the marathon, over a year before, and barely at all in the weeks before this particular race. Whatever! I guess I just figured I could harness the power of the holiday spirit and pick up the pace.
I realized during the first mile that this was, you know, faulty logic. I was pushing it harder than I normally do when out for my infrequent jogs, and was feeling tired...in the first mile. I didn't worry about it (one thing the marathon truly did for me was change my mindset when dealing with physical strain, as well as teach me about pacing myself), I simply started thinking about how I wanted to handle the next two.
I thought about this one truth that I know for sure, but I forget in my day-to-day actions, kind of like how I know there is no way in hell I'm going to go for a run at night, when I could be getting down to business relaxing.
I thought, "Ok. You could continue trying to run at this same pace and get it over with. Or you could slow down, and it'll take a little longer." And, the kicker: "Both options are equally difficult." This was the reality. And it's the reality so much of the time, at least in my sphere. I wasn't killing myself out there. I just wanted to keep doing a good job. And the difference between a good job, which I was totally capable of, and a subpar job, which I was also obviously capable of, didn't really have to do with my energy level. It had to do with my mindset.
(Oh my god, this post is getting very "be-your-best-self" and I apologize. Maybe it's the fact that New Year's is coming, or that I'm about to turn 40 - FORTY!!! Whatever the case, I apologize, but I have to finish. Bear with me.)
This thing is true often at various junctures throughout my day, and I think a lot of you might recognize it, because I'm not talking about some special feeling I have, I'm talking about a very regular, very common feeling that occurs when you've got a lot going on, and trying hard - old school, like when you were a kid, giving it your best - seems like the more difficult option.
This happens to me most when I'm doing two things: writing, and dealing with my children. Two totally different activities, requiring totally different skill sets. And yet, the same feeling.
At night, maybe J isn't home yet, and I really am exhausted after a day of switching between working and parenting mindsets, dealing with a few tantrums, having not gotten enough sleep. I'm trying to get the kids to brush their teeth and put their pajamas on so we can get bedtime rolling, and it feels so much easier to slide into the couch and announce that I'm tired and let the whole affair turn into pandemonium, because that's what will happen if I lose sight of the goal.
That feels so much easier. Rather than summoning the energy neccessary to ignore the whining, march the children upstairs, put the toothbrushes in their hands and fully engage with the various needs of my adorable, infuriating little crew. It feels easier to let it all slip, but it isn't. Summoning the energy, doing it right, is easier, quicker and more fulfilling. Every single time.
When I'm writing - or doing any work - I tend to fall into the same trap. Ignoring distractions and indulging (yes, it's like indulging when I allow myself the proper space) in a solid hour of putting words on the page is so satisfying. It always feels easier, though, to resist work until the last minute, try to write through distractions - including distracting myself - or when I truly don't have the time. It feels easier then setting deadlines and getting it done. But listen to me. It is not. Just like running that 5K a little bit faster than normal and getting it done is the same amount of difficult, or probably even less difficult, as running it at a slower pace.
Both take work. One feels infinitely better.
I'm guessing you're like, "Um, ok, so your massive realization is that it feels better and is more productive to work hard and do a good job? And you're just figuring this out?"
What I'm telling you is, "Ok, agreed, that's pretty ridiculous. I have always known this, because everybody knows it on a certain level, but what I'm actually saying is that far too often I choose the other option because it feels easier, and more pleasant. What I'm realizing as I become older and possibly wiser, is that it isn't."
And that's what I want to think about this coming year. It's what I want to think about as I embark on new creative projects, having recently left my job at a non-profit and now writing full time, working on my own clock and often setting my own deadllines. It's what I want to think about as I deal with my busy little familiy and the fights that break out between my nine, six and three-year-old, and as we take on new "va-ventures" (that's Aidy speak, and I'm never teaching her the right way to say it).
Less fretting, more action. The former doesn't make anything easier, although I realize it's ok to devolve into a session every now and then (especially first thing in the morning when you're barely awake, J, and I decide to unleash every single one of my currrent anxieties before you've even taken your first sip of coffee, SORRY! you're the best).
During the last mile of the 5K I noticed a man just ahead of me in a full reindeer suit. He was a big guy, and I wouldn't exactly say he had a runner's body. The only festive gear I had on was socks with a Christmas lights print and a Santa hat that I'd abandoned in the beginning of the race because it was annoying me. Otherwise, I was all business.
I could easily pass him, I thought. If you can't pass the guy in the full reindeer suit before the finish line, what is even happening?! Pass him! Pass him!
I couldn't do it. Because, bottom line, I'm not a fast runner. But in 2018 I'm going to run as fast as I can.