Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Grow Your Own Grit!

New Orleans Marathon: 1/25/2015
New Orleans was my third marathon, and like every race that went before, it taught me a few things.

  1. Vaseline in all the right places will finally get you a chafe-free race.
  2. If the water in your bottle gets hot, it's a sure sign that you aren't drinking enough.
  3. Don't eat mussels paired with Malbec the night before a big run: they're not pretty when they pay the return visit.
  4. No matter how well you prepare, those last few miles are going to hurt. When all else fails, your inner commandant will get you there. 

I'm sure you've heard it many times before, but the marathon really is all about mental toughness. It's a mind game, and your inner toddler is going to fight you those last few miles, every step. Sure, smart training and a strong body will get you to mile 17--maybe even mile 20--but only grit will get you to the finish. So how do you train for that?

After the race: 4:28:40
I read an article just the other day about the need for mental toughness, but honestly, it didn't offer me much help. It told me what qualities I needed, not how to grow my own. So here's my take on growing your own grit:

   •   You grow your own grit every time you make a hard decision that's right but not necessarily in your own interest.
   •   You grow your own grit every time you suck something up and choose not to whine when life's not fair.
   •   You grow your own grit when you walk through the hard places in your life, when you feel like it's all too much and too far, but you keep plodding on anyway--doesn't matter how slowly or how many tears you shed on the way.

I've asked this question before, and I'm still asking it today: Do marathons train us for life, or does life train us for marathons? My jury's out; I don't know. I can say this though. I've been a runner less than a year and a half, but I've got 48 years of growing my own grit to contribute to the task, and I'm bringing all of them. The real training to be a runner started a very long time ago.

Under the bell at the Crow Collection of Asian Art
My hero Thich Nhat Hanh says red traffic lights don't have to be irritants--they can be mindfulness bells, bringing us back to the present moment. If a traffic light is like the small zen bell I keep on my bookshelf, then the marathon distance is the bloody great dome they store at the Crow. You can't run those final miles anywhere but the present moment. I swear that's why they take so much from you--and give so much back.

So next time life dumps a stinking, steaming pile of something undeserved and smelly on your doorstep, remind yourself you're in training for those last few miles, the ones that only grit will get you through. You have 26.2 reasons to be grateful for this challenge (I'm preaching to myself here!), so square your shoulders, pick up a shovel, and sing...

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
-- Jelaluddin Rumi,
    translation by Coleman Barks

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