One Step at a Time

I mentioned a while back that I signed up for my first (and most likely only!) marathon this fall.  My official training began a few weeks ago, but I am just now at the place where I have to plan to run more frequently and/or longer than I normally would in my non-marathon days. Last week I ran my furthest distance to date – 16 miles. Those kind of distances give me a LOT of time to think (and compose new book ideas, as in the case of last week’s run 🙂 ). I have been realizing that there are similarities between training for a marathon (or any distance that pushes you) and the process of taking a romantic relationship from a more casual place to one that is more committed and long-term, something which I have experienced in the past 2 1/2 years.

Not a marathon.

Baby Steps

With running, it is recommended that you only increase your mileage by 10% each week (or each run if you’re just starting out). When I started running five years ago, I neglected this advice. I was already in good shape and so I thought I would run as far as I could in any given session.  This worked fine for a few weeks, but then I was sidelined with overuse injuries (mainly plantar fasciitis) for months. It was too much, too soon, and my body did not have time to adapt. It felt great at the moment, but was detrimental in the long run. I now know to be more conservative and I monitor my weekly mileage carefully.

This same strategy applies to relationships.  It is so easy to get carried away in those early, heady days of new love. You want it all and you want now. Frequently, it is too much, too soon and the emotional equivalent of overuse injuries occur when it becomes apparent that the relationship moved too quickly for adaptation to occur. When I first started dating again, I found that I moved too quickly. It resulted in flash and burn as the momentum overtook any real bond. With my current beau, we moved slowly, taking our time moving through casual dating to more serious, to commitment. We spent time at each stage, acclimating to each other and learning how to be at that place. It allowed us both to become comfortable before we made changes.

It can be so easy to let enthusiasm propel you to take on more than you are ready for. Baby steps allow you to move towards what you want in a deliberate fashion, allowing you to adapt in a natural way.

It’s a Mental Game

Until last week, the longest I had ever run was 15 miles. That was my barrier for almost 2 years. Obviously, if I can run 15 miles physically, I can also run 16 or more. It was a mental barrier. I decided to sneak up on my fear. I programmed my iPod for 12 miles, but allowed a small voice to convince me to try more if I felt okay. I reached the 6 mile mark and decided to push for 2 more miles before I turned around. This meant that I had to cover 16 miles just to get back to the car. I completed the run with no problems and, more importantly, broke through that fear that kept me limited.

Fear also holds us back in relationships. We are scared to commit to the long haul. Afraid to try in case we fail. We form mental barriers that hold us in. Sometimes, it is best to not think too much about is around the corner. Commit to the now and try to release the fear about what will be. If you’re in “mile 1” of a relationship, keep the finish line in mind but don’t worry yet about the hills in “mile 10.”

This is me elevating my tired calves after a 16 mile run.

The Little Things Grow

Living in the South, carrying water on longer runs is a necessity. I have a Nathan’s duel water belt that I have used successfully for the last couple years. Successfully, that it, until last week. It turns out that those two water bottles, which are perfectly fine for runs that are 12 miles and under, cause severe back pain and bruising on longer treks. When I gear up for a long run, I have to be very careful about seams that may rub or laces tied too tightly. Those little annoyances that are not critical in the short term become magnified as time progresses.

The little things in relationships also seem to grow as time moves on. The characteristics (both positive and negative) that you notice on the first few dates will only become more noticeable as the relationship progresses. Plan carefully at the outset and be mindful of the details to help avoid chafing down the road.

Preparation is Key

Sometimes, I neglect to prepare myself for a run. I might head out without enough pre-hydration. Maybe I haven’t visited my foam roller or I skipped my yoga class. At times, I forget to charge my iPod. When I fail to prepare for a run, I end up with a workout that is less than satisfactory. In contrast, when I think about the result I want and I make preparations for that outcome, I end up with a better experience and I accomplish or at least get close to my goals.

I also had to prepare to be in a relationship. After a sudden divorce, I had quite a bit of personal work to do before I could expect for a relationship to be successful. I needed to take time to work through my anger and sadness and I needed to address my underlying fears and anxieties. Think about what you want in a relationship and then look at what you need to do yourself to prepare for that reality.

Required Fuel

One of the trickiest aspects of running longer distances is learning to manage your fuel needs. There are hundreds of products and thousands of recommendations on how and when to eat on a run. Ultimately, all that matters is what works for your body. Regardless of the product and timing, most people have to refuel on a regular basis throughout a run or they simply cannot go any further.

In a relationship, fuel is obviously not Gu and Gatorade, but is the way that the relationship is fed and invigorated. This can be through touch, kind words, notes, rituals, etc. Just like with running, fuel will be different for each person. As Dr. Chapman highlighted in The 5 Love Languages, it is important to find out what fuel meets your partner’s needs. It is necessary to keep the relationship fueled if it is to continue for the long run.

Marathons and relationships take work. They don’t just happen. You have to want it and make choices that will support your dream.

Happy running and happy loving:)

What it’s all about:)
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13 thoughts on “One Step at a Time

  1. This is a great article, and I can’t believe the similarities between you and I. I too have been running for five years, and like you, I started by running as far as I could each time. Like you, that left me with overuse injuries! Also like you, I am doing my first marathon this October! And I recently wrote a post about breaking through my own barrier–14 miles!! I felt like I was reading my own blog! Haha!
    Anyway, I love how you compared this to relationship. I also went through a divorce, but am now remarried, and this comparing marathons to a relationship is something I can relate to. My husband and I love each other very much, but we do argue quite a bit. I like the advice you give here, and I’m going to take it: “Think about what you want in a relationship and then look at what you need to do yourself to prepare for that reality.” I can so relate to this because it takes so much preparation and consistency to prepare for a marathon. It makes sense that I would give the same efforts for a marriage. Thank you. And thanks for linking to me too, as I never would have found this blog without it. 🙂

    1. That is too funny! Did you start running after the divorce? I have met so many people who take up training after the end of a marriage. I know for me it was a relief to undertake a challenge with a known duration and an actual finish line.

  2. Such a simple, powerful analogy. I really needed to read this. Physical training has always come easy. Discipline in love, not so much. I am erratic and unprepared in my intimate relationships, and the mistakes do me in long before we find our stride. I really appreciate the idea of carrying the clear practices from my fitness regimen over to a place where I clearly need some structure. Looks like I’ll have to be my own love coach. Oy!

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