“I’m not a marathon, Charlie” were some of the final words from the latest in what is becoming a distressingly long list of lost loves, failed relationships, and ex-girlfriends. She was right, but perhaps not in the way she thought. For you see, person who will remain nameless for obvious reasons, had I truly approached our relationship with the same cautious optimism and practiced perseverance with which I have approached more than 30 marathons, we might still be running together today.
To provide some perspective on the comment, this particular young woman and I—please excuse the cliché—hit the ground running. We sprinted off the start line like first-time runners, arrogantly defying the obvious folly of our unrealistic and flawed race plan. When our pace proved too frenetic to maintain, we took completely different race strategies: she stopped at an aid station for medical attention and I, failing to see she had stopped, forged ahead at the same suicide pace. Sadly, she didn’t get my attention when she stopped and I didn’t turn around in time to see that she was no longer beside me.
I’ve never started a race at such a reckless pace; we’d have been lucky to finish a 5K as fast as we were going. I know better. Everyone who has ever put on a pair of running shoes knows better. Most training programs allow 16 weeks to properly prepare runners to reasonably take on a marathon—even the most condensed programs call for 12 weeks. All of the plans stress the importance of a gradual buildup in weekly mileage and run intensity. And we all know that at no point during a marathon is it wise to break into an all-out sprint, especially in the opening miles. I’ll spare you the details, but our first date lasted the better part of two days, I put the “L” word on the table by week three, and she made use of every synonym under the sun for that word in a similar timeframe. We didn’t just overlook the training plans and extensive race-pace wisdom that was readily at our disposal; we scoffed, thumbed our noses, and completely disregarded all such tools of good judgment. Oops.
Running, admittedly, isn’t a metaphor for everything in life, but many of its lessons can be applied to a large amount of everything in life. Case in point: love and running. The two should be approached in much the same way: cautiously, well prepared, and at a reasonable pace. And in love, much as in running, real progress and success take time, dedication, and hard work to achieve. Obviously love isn’t nearly as simple as running and the two have their share of differences—for starters, I’m actually really good at running. It’s also much easier to run again after a bad run than it is to love again after a bad…you get the idea.
When you train intelligently and give your best to even the hardest workouts, running is like a healthy relationship: rewarding, sublime, and seemingly effortless. Your feet are light, your stride is fluid, and mile after mile passes with ease. The sun seems a little brighter, the air is a little more invigorating, and days are a little better. The work doesn’t feel like work and you lace up even when you’re tired or the weather isn’t good. You sit through the latest inane vampire-love flick or suffer political debate-laden dinners with her parents with a smile on your face. You run—you love—because you know that putting in that effort contributes to a litany of benefits you reap from having running—or a person you care for so deeply—in your life.
As with any metaphor so fitting as love and running, there is also a dark side to the parallels. Jumping into a race too quickly and unprepared, setting unrealistic and overly ambitious goals, and refusing to adjust your goals when and if you must, will only result in heartache, disaster, and a long and painful recovery fraught with self doubt and difficult realizations. And while you might be able to limp to the finish line after blowing up in a race, the same is rarely true of blowing up in love. Love, unlike running, requires two people to limp through difficult times together.
“I’m not a marathon, Charlie,” are words that I don’t believe I will ever forget—words that I don’t ever want to forget. I’m sorry that I gave the speaker of those words cause to feel that way. Regardless of how much effort and passion you pour into a marathon, people deserve more. People deserve the effort and passion that a runner gives to running itself, the thousands of miles between races and countless small sacrifices that cannot be defined by personal records, medals, or age group awards. Marathons have finish lines, but running does not…and neither does love.