This past weekend I ran my first marathon. (Okay, truth be told I ran a half-marathon, but let’s not get bogged down in details here.) As the name of this post may suggest to you, it was held in the beautiful old-world town of Savannah, Georgia. Call me Cusack, but she really charmed me.
While walking through town on Saturday afternoon (yes, I could walk after the race…), and then on Sunday on the long drive home to Atlanta, I got to thinking about how the experience of running a (half) marathon relates to the conditions of success. I’m pretty sure that I’ve arrived to two nuggets of truth about success generally, and the conditions surrounding it that we choose to accept or to reject in our lives. This is still pretty rough, but I’m going to give it my best. Here goes…
First, distance running is like a tangible intersection of preparation and Providence, those two principles (alliteration, for the win!) we’re demanding that you accept as a prerequisite to reading this blog.
Preparation, in this case, is training. Almost anyone can go out and “run” a mile. Maybe even a 5K. Little if any training would be required. Run, walk, crawl, roll, whatever, you could probably get it done with only minimal short term injury, such as chafing. Anything above that distance, and you can forget about it. You’ve got to put in some time and miles to complete, and even more to compete. (See what I did there?)
How does it relate to Providence? Well, we all have a physical nature – genetics, biology, whatever you want to call it, I believe it was granted to each of us by God. We all know what distance runners tend to look like. People like that have natural physical advantages in distance running, which also reinforces and is turn reinforced by training and preparation. (Sidenote: you couldn’t swing the ghost of dead cat – and there are many of them in Savannah – without knocking over an ectomorph this past weekend.)
It’s when you bring these two things together that you get someone who is really successful at running marathons. It takes both. I think this idea generally holds up in any situation, including non-physical activities. Individuals have natures and proclivities toward certain things, and when they apply their time and efforts toward that skill, they tend to be very successful at that thing. It’s important to remember that there’s a negative aspect to that as well, as we all have tendencies toward certain vices that can be encouraged, often unintentionally.
One final thing before moving on…remember that “tension” that Brandon wrote about in his post? (“At the intersection of God’s power and our ability we find a tension.”) Well, that tension is palpable in distance running: it’s called lactic acid.
My second point is this: long distance running can help us define success, if only by helping us understand what it is not. I do not think running, like success in general, is a zero-sum game, as in some 18th century theory of mercantilism. If I win, you lose. And vice versa. If your “piece of the pie” gets bigger, mine shrinks.
My reason for saying this is that the vast majority (I’d go as far as to say 99%) of runners in a given marathon field are not competing to be the absolute winner of the race. The question asked one to another prior to the starting gun is “What’s your PR?” (PR being “personal record.”). Because you’re (usually) not running to win the race; you’re running to beat yourself. And that’s a working definition of success, both here and elsewhere in life.(1)
It’s possible, in this case, for every single person in a field of tens of thousands of runner to be successful, though not necessarily winners, at least in the narrowly defined sense of the term.(2)
Success is found in recognizing, and cultivating, those places in your life where preparation and Providence meet. Both the recognition and the cultivation are essential to a full understanding of the depth and breadth of your potential happiness as a human being. We’re going to get into this more, I promise, but right now I’m at the intersection of lack of a lack of sleep and over-thinking all of this.
(1) Think about the world record marathon time: it’s a measurement of excellence used to evaluate your own performance. If it didn’t exist, how would you know that your time is “good” or not? Or, if you want to kick this up a notch, there’s always Jesus Christ to consider, with Him as the foremost example of the standard of perfection against which to evaluate ourselves morally. As Christians we don’t believe we can ever attain that, but we should be trying anyway.
(2) I hope this goes without saying, but in case it does not, I in no way want to undermine the idea of having “winners” and “losers,” particularly in the areas of athletic competition.