Let me set the scene.
The year was 2009. Jon and I were a young married couple with no kids. I had just started my third teaching job (at my third school) in three years, and I desperately needed something bigger than myself or my classroom to fill my mind and my energy. Jon was in grad school at Stanford, which meant he was away in classes or studying for approximately 23 hours a day. And, because I was young and foolish, I decided it was the perfect time in life to run a marathon.
About a year earlier, right after we’d moved to Palo Alto, I had joined a weekly running club. This tight-knit group of people made up of grad students, Silicon Valley techies, and millionaire housewives became my second family during those long (and often lonely) years of grad-student-wife-ing and young teacher-ing. Somewhere along the countless hours and miles I spent running with these friends I realized that I actually had it in me to train for and run a marathon. It had always been a goal of mine and I figured “If not now, when?”. I roped one of my run club friends into coaching me for my first marathon, and I signed up for a December race. Done deal.
When race day came, I was ready. I had trained hard, I had a few of my run club friends by my side, and I knew I could do it. And I did. I ran the crap out of that marathon, and I finished 1 second faster than my goal time in 4 hours 29 minutes and 59 seconds. Running that marathon taught me a lot about myself which alone could warrant several blog posts, or maybe even a memoir (The title would probably be something along the lines of “Consume Enough Electrolytes During A Marathon or You’ll End Up In The Hospital The Next Day With a Kidney Infection”). But running the marathon also taught me something else of importance to my bigger life story: Pacing.
Pacing is essentially finding your groove and pushing yourself just the right amount so you can make it for the long haul. Pacing is consistency. Pacing is making smart choices early on so you can make it to the finish line.
At this point in the global Coronavirus pandemic, I think we’ve all realized that we’re going to be in this thing for the long-haul. This is a marathon, not a sprint. And since we’re in a marathon, pacing will be essential. If we over-exert ourselves too much now, in the early stages of the race, we’ll never cross the finish line in one piece. Based on what I know about marathon pacing, this is how I plan on pacing myself through the months ahead as we cope with the Coronavirus Pandemic.
Pacing Miles 0-3: Adrenaline Rush
The first few miles of a race are a blur of excitement. People line the streets cheering, the running pack is thick, and the miles fly by. Without even thinking about it, you are carried through the first few miles on a burst of adrenaline.
We have already been through the Coronavirus adrenaline rush. Everything changed so rapidly that the last three weeks are simply a blur of confusion and exhaustion. The mad rush to the store to stock up on supplies, the flurry of cancelled activities, the swift paring down of my world. I don’t know what day or week or month it is any more. I just know that the world is fundamentally different Now from how it was Before.
Pacing Miles 4-10: Finding Your Stride
After the initial rush in a race, you start to find your stride. You remember your training and you start to find a steady pace that you can maintain. In the running world, we often call this “conversation pace”: the pace at which you can still coherently have a conversation with someone running next to you–not so fast that you’re breathless and jumbled, but not so slow that you’ve lost sight of your end goal.
I think this is where we’re at currently in the Coronavirus Marathon. We need to remember our training: What is most important to me right now? Maybe it’s maintaining a routine and a schedule with your family. Maybe it’s returning to academics after a prolonged break. Maybe it’s setting reminders on your phone to drink enough water and exercise every day. Maybe it’s purposefully setting aside a block of time each day to do something that you want to do, not that you need to do. Maybe it’s logging off of social media for a time. Maybe it’s cooking comfort food. Whatever it is, I need to find a pattern for living that will be sustainable Now, for as long as this lasts.
Pacing Miles 11-20: Pull Deep
Most marathon training regimens include at least a dozen “long runs” that take you up to about 20 miles before your race. These long runs are training for the distance you’ll have to cover–not only physically (Can my body do this?), but also mentally and emotionally (Can I make myself do this even when I want to quit?).
We didn’t have much warning that we would be entering this Coronavirus marathon. Sure there were stories coming out of countries on the other side of the world, but that was There and I live Here. Had I known I’d soon be entering a marathon, I would have used those early months to practice some of my “long runs”: I would have stocked up on a 3-month supply of essential food and household items. I would have spent as much in-person time as I possibly could with the friends and family I wouldn’t be able to see for months on end. I would have gone to all of my favorite places and done all of my favorite things. But, alas, I did not.
Instead, I’m going to have to pull deep to make it through this long stretch of social distancing and physical isolation. Along the way I’ll probably get painful “blisters”–trying times and plenty of “I Quit” days. I’ll feel lost and unequipped because, well, I’m lost and unequipped. NOBODY in the history of the world has ever had to do what we are attempting to do right now to the scale at which we are attempting to do it. There is no course map or proven best practice. So I will have to rely on those ahead of me and those above me to help me make wise choices along the way. This is the long run, and it won’t always be easy.
Pacing Miles 20-26: Hitting The Wall
There is a point in every distance race that runners know well: The Wall. This is the point where–despite your training and adrenaline and preparation–you just hit the point where everything sucks. Your feet don’t want to move. Your lungs don’t want to breathe. Your legs feel like lead. Your mind starts playing tricks on you. You think you can’t go on. And yet you do.
I imagine at some point during this Coronavirus marathon I will hit the wall. There will be some straw that will break my camel’s back. Maybe it will be some flippant thing someone says or some stupid Facebook post or my inability to find some item I’m craving at the grocery store. I don’t know what it will be, but there will be some point where I get to the point where I’m just done.
And that, my friends, is the point where you just start chanting the mantra (out loud if you need to): Breathe. One foot in front of the other. You can do this. You will do this.
And once you push through the wall, you have nearly made it.
Pacing Mile 26 – Mile 26.2: Strong Finish
The last 0.2 miles of the marathon are by far the hardest “miles” of the race. Often times you can literally see the finish line, yet somehow it feels so. Far. Away. And this is where you quit relying on yourself or your own abilities, and you just finish as strong as you can.
In my Coronavirus marathon, I will need to seek help outside of myself if I want to finish strong. Keeping myself and my family healthy, helping my kids learn and keep up with school, maintaining joy, developing patience, finding hope each day–I can’t do all of that on my own. Nor should I. So during those .2 miles that feel like a lifetime, I will lean heavy on my faith, God’s Word, and His promises. And that, my friends, is the strongest finish I can hope to find.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.” Hebrews 12:1-2
So let us run hard, friends. Let us set an example for our children, our friends, and our neighbors about how this race should be run. And when the going gets tough–as it surely will–keep your eye on the prize. No race lasts forever.