If you Google “inspirational running quotes” links to various cheesy web pages and blogs will pop up. Although most contain the same quotes and far too much usage of neon colors and cosmic sans or papyrus, there are a few good nuggets of wisdom that inspire you, or me, to tie up the laces and hit the road. One that shows up often is a quote from Oprah Winfrey, of all people, that goes something like: “Running is a good metaphor for life because you get out of it what you put in to it.” Gag, I know, but this hits home to me, especially with Peace Corps.
Running has always played a part of my life since junior high, but my relationship with the sport is taking on a new form. We are trying to figure each other out and work through issues we never did before. We are trying to uncover the foundation of our relationship and determine if we have a future beyond a few casual runs here and there.
On a Sunday morning I woke up before the rest of the village to log in my definition of a long run. Because I don’t have a way to figure out distance here, I run by time. I determine a minute count for the run and run along the road for half that distance, then turn around. It’s not the Olympic training method, but it works.
For this day, I was to do 130 minutes, or 2 hours and 10 minutes. Usually I am excited for these long runs, but had a hard time getting out of bed this particular run. It was dark in my house and I needed to use a headlamp to put in my contacts, throw on my running gear and find my iPod. At 6 a.m., I was out the door.
It started slow and I could feel my body slugging. All I could think about was how much further I had to go. Because I run the same road most days, I know what minute I should hit certain spots. That morning, I was sloooow, clocking points at about two minutes slower than usual. My stride felt choppy and my mind wasn’t focused. The self-doubting, damning thoughts streamed their usual course and I kept looking at my watching with disappointment in the lack of time that passed.
When I turned off the dirt road onto the paved one, the podcast I was listening to ended. While training for the Fargo Half, I listened to a lot of podcasts over music because it was entertaining and the miles ticked off quicker. In Lesotho I hadn’t really gotten into that habit but tried it. The podcast I was listening to was actually really interesting – Saltcast, where radio producers and editors go through the pieces they put together as students at the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies and discuss the art of good story production – and did hold my attention. Yet, at about a fourth of the way through, I needed to find my sweet spot and switched to my running playlist. Immediately I found the right gear and my body slipped into a great stride. I was moving, feeling like my old running self.
Sure, I hit some weak spots through the 130 minutes, but I finished feeling strong and tired with my muscles aching in all kinds of good ways. It may have started slow, but it was a successful run.
That run really did seem like a good metaphor for my service. I guess that Oprah chick isn’t entirely full of crap. Some days are really hard and I have to fight through this depressive state to go at it again the next day. And I am not alone in these emotions. Many of my fellow volunteers have the same day-to-day struggles but we keep at it because that is why we are here.
Recently a PCV, who will leave in July, told me that he remembers the first three months of his service to have lots of lows. It’ll get better, he said. These first three months are hard, some of the hardest in a 27-month service. You are letting go of one life and building another and nothing about that is easy. And it’s OK if I don’t face them with stone-cold strength each day. When I am struggling I often think of something Sylvia Boorstein, a Jewish and Buddhist psychotherapist, says to herself when she is in a time of weakness: “Sweetheart, you are in pain. Relax. Take a breath. Let’s pay attention to what is happening then will figure out what to do.”
What I need to remember, and maybe what this run was trying to tell me, is that just because the beginning is rough doesn’t mean that the rest will be. It won’t be perfect, but at the end, if you think it was a success, then that is what matters.
This week, I’ve started each day with uncontrollably smiling. I no longer pray to God to help me get through the day; that is not a way to live. I pray to thrive in the day, to embrace each moment with full attention and ambition.
And, because I am all about sharing cheesy quotes today, there is another string of words that I thought of on this run. When I worked at the Foundation the organization began a five-year campaign to raise $200 million, more money than any campaign in the state has ever tried to collect. The campaign ends this fall and it was certainly not easy. Our CEO would often inspire us with one of his favorite quotes from the movie “A League of Their Own.” Sure, it’s a cliché but that doesn’t mean it’s not good. On my tough days I remember this quote and it helps me understand that I am not weak. This is just hard.
“It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t everyone would do it. The hard … is what makes it great.”