On Sunday, I ran my first ever marathon. How did it go? That is not an easy question to answer. There are two answers: horrible and great. How can you have two contradictory answers to the same question that are both true? Well, I think these two answers also both work for the question: How is life? Life is great and life is horrible. Isn’t it Buddha who said “life is suffering”? But it doesn’t make you not want to live life. The secret is that beyond the suffering there is joy and there is also joy in suffering.
How does life compare to a marathon? It never turns out how you expect, no matter how much you plan and prepare. I started training over three months before the marathon (nearly 90 workouts). I followed the training plan to the letter. I tried to adopt the right diet in the weeks leading up to the day (fat-loading, carb-loading and copious amounts of beet juice). In the days leading up to the marathon, I studied the weather closely – it would be warm but cloudy. I picked my running gear accordingly. I was ready.
But on the day of the marathon, the sun was shining brightly and hotly. Having trained through winter, we were all unprepared for this. My meager water supply was not clearly not going to be enough. My light clothes were not light enough (although lighter was not possible). Yet, I managed to adapt. I stopped off at each water stand and grabbed a bottle. I poured half of it over my head and drank the other half before continuing with my own water supply until the next water stand. In addition, when choosing my running gear, I had chosen to wear a hat instead of a bandanna, which helped a lot and reduced the inevitable sunburn somewhat.
The first half of the marathon, which I had expected to be easy, was hard due to the added heat of the sun (perfect weather for the spectators). I ran slower than usual and I didn’t enjoy it (but this was meant to be the easy and fun part!). Things got better after the first half and actually got really good around the 25th kilometer – I thought I could push this goodness for ten kilometers or so. I couldn’t. At 30 kilometers, I hit the wall. Or so I thought because I really hit the wall at 35 kilometers (and when I hit it, I was in no doubt that what I felt at 30 kilometers could only be defined as a slight muscular tiredness). From the 35th kilometer to the 40th kilometer, I had to negotiate with myself to move forward. I imagined the finish line. I willed myself along kilometer by kilometer. I calculated time in terms of the number of songs on my playlist. I reminded myself that the distance ahead was the equivalent of an easy workout. I knew that if I started walking, it would be even harder to start running again. At 40 kilometers, I knew I had done it. I picked up the pace and a kilometer before the finish line, I was running really fast again.
What does all this have to do with life? Well, in life you have to prepare, but it will never be enough. Preparation cannot guarantee success (but if you don’t prepare, unless you are extremely lucky, you will fail). Things will never fully turn out as you expect. No matter how well prepared you are, some things will come down to luck and some things will come down to how quickly you can adapt to the unexpected. Things that you expect to be pleasant may turn out to be unpleasant or less pleasant than hoped. Things that you expect to be hard may turn out to be easy. Things can always get worse, but things can always get better (never assume that you have reached one of these two extremes). Keep dreaming – dreams will get you through the hard times.
Joy and happiness will not be where you expect them to be, and you will find joy in suffering just as there is there is pain in joy. Today, with every step I take, my muscles scream and my thighs shake, but I’m very happy about this, because every time it hurts, I remember that I ran a marathon – I really did!