Run the Marathon

Dec 03, 2015

I was exhausted and decided to slump on a futon in the living room with the TV on. As I browsed through Netflix or Amazon — I can’t remember which — I came across Marathon Man. Watching Olivier’s amazing performance as well as Dustin Hoffman writhing in pain won over raking leaves.

Seeing the movie lead to, of course, wanting to read the book. (What? It doesn’t work that way for you?) I’ve read a few of Goldman’s novels before including Magic, which I checked out of the public library when my parents refused to let me see the movie. It scared the crap out of me.

Early in the movie we see Dustin Hoffman’s “Babe” run around the Central Park Reservoir, and struggle to keep up with another jogger. This is meant to convey the idea to us that Babe wants to be a marathoner just as much, if not more, than the historian we later find he is studying to be.

The scene is right out of the book, except in the book Goldman can put us in Babe’s head (Goldman adapted the screenplay too.) :

“He was going to run the marathon. Like Nurmi. Like the already mythical Nurmi. Years from now, all across the world, track buffs would agonize over who was greatest, the mighty Finn or the fabled T. B. Levy. “Levy,” some of them would argue, “no one would ever run the final five miles the way Levy ran them,” and others would counter that by the time the last five miles came, Nurmi would be so far ahead, it wouldn’t matter how fast Levy ran them, and so the debate would rage, expert against expert, down the decades.”

What I don’t know about running marathons would fill volumes. I hate running, and will be dealing with that for the next several months while I prepare for Tough Mudder. What this passage brought home to me to was pacing as a strategy. If you’re going to run 26 miles you need to know how to set different paces during the race, depending on where and when you are in the race, as well as where your opponents are.

The “life is a marathon” cliché is, well, a cliché. A well-worn cliché. But sometimes well-worn things fit nicely and are quite functional. (Like a favorite hoodie that finally fits perfectly after years of wear and then your wife tosses it. But I digress…)

Seeing things as a marathon gives me the overview I need for sustainable success. A “diet” is a sprint. Eating healthily is a marathon. A New Year’s Resolution is a sprint. Making exercise a part of my regular routine is a marathon.

But seeing things as a marathon also means checking my pace and changing it for the current terrain. “Babe” daydreams of speeding his pace at the end of a marathon to catch Paavo Nurmi in the last five miles. The race isn’t determined by the pace he sets at mile 1: he has to adjust during the race to make sure he finishes, and also that he finishes first.

“Finishing” and of course “finishing first” are where the cliché part of “life as a marathon” become most apparent to me. Life is not a race and there is no finish line when it comes to living well, at least not one I’m in a hurry to get to.

But the idea of adjusting my pace as I go is something I could learn a lot about.

I’ve had a tough past few weeks. Many times I sat at the table, stressed and emotionally and physically exhausted, and felt the desire to relieve some stress with food. Sometimes I was able to resist. Other times I adjusted by eating more but at least keeping it healthy.

Adjusting my exercise pace was were the strategy paid huge benefits. At times heading to the weights or bike and working hard was a help. A few other times recognizing that there were other priorities and that I needed to either skip or reschedule a shorter, lighter, sessions was the right thing to do.

This idea of pacing is a life skill that I am coming to recognize and learn rather late in life. It’s served me well the last few months and even more so the past couple of weeks.


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