The path to success is usually by way of repetition. Musicians practice scales. Basketball players drill free throws. Students learn vocabulary words with flash cards. As we all learned in elementary school, if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. We drill good behavior until it becomes second nature so that we can perform when it counts without struggle.
I’m currently training for my seventh full marathon, so you might think this road is well trodden, and I’ve got the process down pact. Let me tell you, it never gets easier. The struggle never goes away.
In four weeks, I will run the Eugene Marathon, which means right now is the most challenging part of training. My body is tired. My brain is mush. Most evenings I’m too sleepy even to consider going out, but when I do, results are mixed at best. I’ve never been the life of the party, but my socializing skills are especially fraught these days. You want to talk about lactic acid? Well, we’re gonna! For the past few months I’ve been eating, sleeping, and breathing running, and it’s catching up with me in a big way.
Somehow I always manage to block this phase from memory. I remember that the process is objectively hard, but this specific wave of training gets lost between the excitement of chasing a goal and the thrill of crossing the finish line. (Hey Future Kate, if you’re reading this and considering signing up for another race, think looooong and hard about how rough these weeks are before you do it!)
Yesterday, 16 miles in to a devastatingly long 20-miler, the weight of the process hit me like a train. I felt overwhelmed by how much more I have to do to be ready for the race, and baffled by how much time I’ve already sunk into preparation. More than once, I stopped and questioned why I’m even doing this. Marathon fatigue is no joke — not so much the wear and tear on my body (although that is extremely real as well), but the toll it takes on your life as a whole. This deep into training, it’s hard to maintain even the illusion of balance. Every Saturday I’m spending over four hours running, and then I’m exhausted the rest of the day. During the week, I’m scrambling to fit in shorter runs with yoga and swimming, and all of that is crammed between that silly thing called a day job. I know this is all part of the process, and I’m doing this by choice, but it all just gets to be a lot.
In the midst of my pity party, I started thinking about something my favorite yoga teacher used to say: “No mud, no lotus.” The lotus is beautiful, but to get that gorgeous flower, you need to go through the mud. My lotus is the marathon, and the mud is my training. I want to finish this race – and more than just finish, I want to set a PR (and a big one at that). I want the full marathon experience and I want that shiny medal, but in order to get there I need to go through the mud. Right now I am deep in in it, and the only way through it is through it. There are no shortcuts in marathon training.
One advantage that experience has given me is knowing this feeling is temporary. I won’t stay stuck in the mud forever. If I can survive just one more week of hard training, then I have two weeks to taper, and then the fun really begins. This too shall pass. The struggle is all part of the process.
This will all be worth it, and I’ll have that lotus soon enough. But I’m here now, doing my best to embrace my time in the mud.