Life Is Like A Marathon

I took up running in college and continued through medical school and marathonresidency. I did a few 10Ks and even took a short run during my lunch break for the MCAT exam. Crazy. I can’t believe I did that, but it did seem to refresh my mind for the next long test session. I always ran solo, and usually without music, using my journeys as time to think. I once was so busy “thinking” I ran 13 miles—double my intended route. I never ran a marathon, though I’ve been scrubbed in for marathon 26.2-hour surgeries.

Three weeks after I finished my residency I broke my tibia while on a walk. I was hit by a dog running full-speed. Perhaps I should have been running and this wouldn’t have happened! I moved back to Fargo as planned shortly after this happened, and started my medical practice, on crutches. I wasn’t allowed to bear any weight on that leg for three months, so I had to hop around the exam chair. A combination of being on crutches and then the winter weather got me out of my running habit.

Today, I run to chase my son around the house, but not much more. I’ve had more orthopedic surgery over the years, and I am hesitant to push my joints to the extreme. The basement-dwelling elliptical machine is my major cardio endeavor. But I watch all of our runners braving the weather, training for the big marathon day with pride. Rory Beil, of Cass Clay Alive, feels that Mark Knutson and his team at the Fargo Marathon have had a major impact on the health of our community, changing our culture to celebrate and support fitness in all shapes, sizes and distances.

Oprah, a marathon-finisher, nailed it with this quote: “Running is the greatest metaphor for life, because you get out of it what you put into it.” And running a marathon means that you are putting a lot of yourself into it, and learning lessons like these along the way:

1. Have an overall vision for success. Do you know what you are capable of? Define your core values and desired feelings and make them the driving force behind your activities. What does crossing the finish line really mean to you?

2. Set goals and believe that you can accomplish them. Goals are the strategic mile-markers that we create to make and mark progress toward realizing our vision. Prepare and focus.

3. Enjoy the journey. While planning is crucial, paying attention and practicing mindfulness bring out things to be grateful for, even when we experience pain and challenges. Life happens both as we train and during the race, not just at the finish line. Sometimes we don’t make it to the finish line, but the journey still holds value.

4. Get out of your comfort zone. Take risks to push yourself. Dig deeper. Failure, embarrassment and injury are possible. But most of us regret what we failed to take a chance on, even more than what we tried to do, even if we come up short. Last is the slowest winner, but you also win just by being in the game.

5. Be flexible and adjust to challenges and change. There are hills, storms, injuries and all sorts of unpredictables that we come across. Difficulty can defeat or strengthen, and we get to choose our response.

6. Great things can be accomplished with love. It is amazing to see how many people run with a cause in mind: from formal charity running groups, to the families who honor loved ones, to those who push or carry a child across the finish line. There is something about living beyond your own headspace and giving to others that makes the journey easier and more meaningful.

7. We survive struggle with the celebration and support of others. I may not be a marathon runner, but I am one of those cheering at the top of my voice.  I love it when people write their names on their number bibs, so that we can give them a personal shout out. We help individual runners achieve their dreams and support the overall success of the event. The music, the parties, the bouncy houses for kids along the route…wow—what a way to show love for the runners, our neighbors and our city. Even in the sadness of the recent Boston Marathon, we know hope because of the helpers—those people who ran toward danger to give care and support.