I woke up in the basement bedroom of my daughter and son-in-law, in Bellevue, Washington. It was 2:00 a.m., July 30th, 2022– the morning of the Jack and Jill marathon in North Bend, Washington. I didn’t need to get up yet, but I am a light sleeper, and never sleep well the night before a marathon. A combination of excitement, anticipation, nervousness, and fear are usually present in some competing combination.
But, this time I was feeling something different, and it was undeniable: I really didn’t want to run the marathon. I wanted to quit before I started. I wanted to pull out. I was genuinely considering taking my first no-show.
I wasn’t hurt (alright, I’d been dealing with a broken toe and a sizeable blister in my arch–but neither were stopping the run); I had trained (alright, not as much as I should–who does?); The temperatures were going to be record-breaking hot (but I’m from Arizona!); I wasn’t afraid (this was my 24th marathon); I even had friends from Arizona also running it, and my wife and a daughter doing the half marathon, so social support and encouragement was intact.
But the desire to bag it, to skip it, to quit, was genuine. What was going on? Is this what burnout feels like? I don’t know. I’ll look it up later.
Meanwhile, I had to figure out what to do. I only have a study sample of one on how to deal with such crises–myself. And, for me, the “next step” approach usually works. In other words, I just focus on what the very next step is in the thing I don’t want to do, and try to take that step (usually without even thinking about it too much; I try not to ask if I actually want to do even that next step–I just do it). For this marathon, I knew the next step was to try to go back to sleep for another couple hours, and then see how I felt. After I did that (and still didn’t want to run the marathon), the next step was to put my feet on the floor and stand up (not kidding–small, doable, next steps), and onward.
It is a good thing I settled into this mode, because I had to do it, over and over, clear to the finish line. The burned-out feeling that I did not want to do this stuck with me, as I took the next steps of dressing, getting in the car, getting to the start area, taking the first running step when the gun went off, and especially at mile 21 on, when everything fell apart at the same time–energy crash, cramps, earbuds dying, the heat, losing my pace group, etc. I am not proud of my finishing time (4:20 finish; my PR is 3:28, so . . .), but I am super proud I finished the marathon at all.
Analogy time. I am not a superstar at anything in particular. But, I feel like I have somehow achieved a successful, ordinary life. That sounds like a contradiction in terms, but I think it is remarkably difficult to successfully live a “normal” life. I attribute much of what I have done to the same “next step” approach I applied to this marathon. Not to be misunderstood, I see great merit in planning ahead, thinking further down the road. My wife thinks that way, and thank goodness she does. But, when I get too far ahead in my thoughts, especially on a big project or goal, I get overwhelmed. I was sure I could not get through law school, but I was pretty sure I could read the next assignment, so I did that (repeat for 3 years). I was overwhelmed when asked to be a Scoutmaster, so I just planned the next campout or activity, over and over again. Raise 5 kids? Impossible. But I could change the next diaper, go to the next concert, pay for the next lesson. In such instances, I know the bigger goal is out there, but I have to think about what is next, or I stop–like I would have with this marathon.
I did still retire from running after this marathon. Permanently. I was going to take up swimming instead, or golf. That commitment lasted for two weeks. My running shoes are back on.