I ran another marathon this past Sunday. It was my 9th and it went well. In fact, it’s probably the best race I’ve had. It wasn’t my fastest time and I didn’t even reach the goal I had set out to accomplish, but I think it was my best. Why? Because the race became difficult and I showed up.
You might think the last mile of a marathon is the toughest, but it’s not. The last mile of the race is usually accelerated by the energy of the finish line, a crowd and the realization that it’s almost over. The last mile gives break to the mental focus of previous miles and provides celebratory relief: it’s almost over. It’s miles 22-25 that I find the toughest. It’s in those miles that the finish line seems dauntingly distant. It’s in those miles that walking can become more attractive than running. It’s in those miles that pain and exhaustion show up. Whether it’s miles 22-25 in an Ironman triathlon or in a stand alone marathon those miles where I’m most tested. I’ve lost those battles at times, but this time was internal victory rather than defeat.
This was one of those best moments that made sense of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi when he said in Flow: “The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.”
I can’t say a marathon in itself if overwhelmingly worthwhile, but it’s difficult. I’m not one to exaggerate the metaphor of running a marathon or ascribe to it too great a meaning as far too many people do. It’s a race. It’s a hobby. Sure, it’s tough, but it’s running. It’s fun. It’s a challenge and it’s healthy. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy it, but what I enjoy is that a marathon is working toward a goal and a generally difficult one at that. It’s a test of the body and mind which is a challenge I enjoy. I know every time I race I’m going to hit a moment when I’m going to be tested. Running a marathon is a way to practice leaning into fear and pain. And I think I need more of that practice.
But how can I practice that in more meaningful moments, you know, moments that actually matter? What about leaning in when working on a challenging project or starting a new business? Or leaning in when my wife and I don’t see eye to eye? What about leaning in when needing to be more disciplined with finances or health? What about leaning into writing and sharing thoughts on this blog? What about leaning in and speaking up when you have something to say? What about showing up?
Whether it’s in a goofy hobby like running a marathon or in meaningful life moments we’re all going to hit a point where we’re tested and the option to sit down, walk or stop is far more attractive than leaning in to the uncertainty of fear and, at times, pain.
How can you practice leaning in so that when it matters you’re capable of showing up and participating in some of life’s best moments?