When I was training for my third marathon, a friend asked me “why”. Why was I running another marathon? I had already run one. In fact, I had already run two marathons; so why did I feel like I needed to run another? My friend had just come back from Pamplona and The Running of the Bulls. It had been on his bucket list and it was done. Time to move on to the next thing.
Running a marathon had been on my bucket list. It had been percolating in my head since I was kid. I still remember being at my buddy George’s apartment and listening to his father tells us tales of running marathons. How the endurance was grueling. How some people pooped in their shorts and kept going to finish the race — this was before porta-potties. How people “hit the wall” and struggled to finish.
I don’t know why it captured my imagination, but it did. The thought of pushing my body to the limits seemed appealing somehow. The struggle of mind over body was alluring. It wasn’t until I turned 40 that I finally decided to train for and run a marathon.
After all the training and runs building up to the marathon, when I was waiting to for the race to start I kept thinking, “Why am I doing this?” And as the race continued, my inner voice would nag: “Stop. There’s no purpose to this. Just quit. Just stop. Give up.”
Running a marathon is the perfect metaphor for the creative process. You want to create something and before you actually start, it seems attainable. It seems like a perfect, legitimate goal. And then you start working towards that goal and it starts to slide further away, the closer you get to it. It seems insurmountable the more you progress forward. And the final product starts to look ridiculous or seem futile. You ask yourself “why am I doing this?”
And you take another step forward. Like a marathon, you tell yourself, I’ll just keep going for a little while. Just a few more steps. Just a few more minutes. Just a few more pages.
My first marathon was actually fairly easy to run because I had been training with a group of people and we ran it together, talking all the way; so we just focused on the process of moving forward and not thinking too much about how far we had to run. It was actually fun. And if the idea of how far we had to run started to nag at me, I could joke about it with my friends.
I’ve run my subsequent marathons, solo; so, when my body starts to ache, the monkey mind jumps in and tells me to stop. It becomes a true battle of wills between my body and my mind. Between the easy and the difficult.
And for me, the solution is to focus on the process, not the product. I’m not running 42.2 kilometers (26.2 miles), I’m just going for a long run. I’ll just keep going for a little bit. Running hurts? I’ll just walk for a bit. Okay, I’ll just keep walking. I’m just going to keep moving forward.
I ran my fifth marathon a few months ago. It was my worst marathon, in terms of time. About halfway through the marathon, my IT band started to give me trouble. I slowed down and started walking more. I ended up walking the last 10 kilometers.
I listened to my body in terms of not ignoring the pain, but I kept going at a pace where there wasn’t pain. Occasionally, I’d try to move a little faster, but the pain would flare up, so I went back to the pace that I could manage. I was going to finish that race. And I did.
I’m working on a project right now called The Lost Years. And the goal of completion seems to be slipping away. My enthusiasm is waning. My productivity is slowing down. Why am I doing this?
And I tell myself to focus on the process, not the product. I’m writing a play. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. I’ve gone from writing for an hour a day to writing a page a day. Just a page. I just have to write a page. I will get this draft done.
The goal isn’t to create something fantastic. The goal is to create something. And after you’ve created that thing you can refine it. And maybe that refining process will be the start of another marathon.
Even though my last marathon was my worst in terms of time, I think it was one of my best overall. It was a beautiful, glorious day. It was a nice, flat route. When the pain came, I adjusted my pace. I found ways to overcome my monkey mind telling me to stop. I finished the run and I felt I had learned something.
Would I run another marathon? Probably. I see it as a metaphor for the creative process and a metaphor for life. Now, excuse me because I have another page to write for this draft of The Lost Years.
© 2015 Peter Gruner