I was a late-in-life runner. In fact, I never managed to run a mile until after my 30th birthday. And even that took most of a month to work up to. Over the next couple years, I became a frequent (although still struggling) runner. I maxed out around 5 miles and would frequently compare myself negatively to the other (real) runners on the trails.
For months, I avoided the trails, afraid of passing out in the middle of the woods from lack of sleep and nutrition. Instead, I took to the treadmill, where I figured at least there would be people to attend to me if I suddenly lost consciousness. I had to start over again – my first treadmill runs were well under a mile. But still, it felt good to move even in a limited manner.
Just a few short weeks after the tsunami, a friend at work mentioned a half marathon that October (less three months away). I had never run more than 5 miles and that was several weeks prior. And I have never even considered a race of any duration. I was still in shock from the trauma of the abandonment and I was still extremely weak from the twenty pounds I shed in the those first few days.
I had no business running 13.1 miles.
And so I signed up.
One of the most frequent pieces of advice I give to people that are in the middle of a major life transition is to sign up for something with a finish line. It can be running. Or walking. Or biking. Or swimming. It doesn’t even necessarily have to be a physical endeavor, just something with a defined end.
Why do I advise adding one more challenge to an already challenging time?
– Life’s transitions are messy. The end may be undefined and vague. It may be months or even years in the future. While that goal may feel impossible, a literal finish line does not. It exists at a known time and place. You can train for it. You can cross it.
– Training provides structure at a time when all you want to to is hide under the covers and disappear. It gives you a reason to get up and a reason to get out.
– The preparation and the even can be social or allow time for solitude. Both are needed in times of life stress.
– Training teaches you to become comfortable with discomfort. It has an end yet requires that you learn to accept the process.
– Challenges provide opportunity to practice tempering expectations. No matter how much you train, you cannot control the outcome. It’s a lesson in acceptance.
– Confidence comes from achievement. When you cross that finish line, you’ll have the courage and conviction to keep aiming for the finish line of your life transition.
I ran that half marathon on a cold, rainy day. It wasn’t fast and it wasn’t pretty. But it was perfect. Tears mixed with rain as I ran the last hundred yards to the finish line.
I still didn’t know when the finish line of my divorce would be.
But after that day, I trusted that I could make it.