My dad has run more marathons than I or he can count. A significant portion of my childhood was spent at one marathon finish line or another. While I’m nowhere near the runner he is, I have dabbled in this tortuous pastime myself and discovered a few things about my dad that make more sense to me taking the runner’s eye view.
1) I can afford to be generous, kind and forgiving. If you’ve ever been at the starting line of a large race, you know it’s a little like being lost in a large herd of cattle. As in life, some of these people are aware of others around them, while others are not. My dad has taught me that I can afford to be generous. Give people the benefit of the doubt because we are all in this life together doing the very best we can.
2) My dad can afford to be generous because he knows that it doesn’t really matter how you start the race, it’s how you finish that counts. Those that shove and elbow their way up through the teaming masses and pull ahead in the first few minutes of a marathon are at no significant advantage a few miles down the road. In running, as in life, some of us get off to a rough start and have a lot of disadvantages. Others have been given every advantage and yet still manage to run in the wrong direction.
3) Prepare now or pay later — either way there’s a certain amount of pain involved. My dad has taught me that you always have a choice to make when it comes to preparation: Work now or later. The second choice is less enjoyable. It can be less painful if we prepare, but either way there is a price that must be paid. A considerable number of life’s problems come from denying and avoiding and trying to escape pain. Do what you can to run through the pain and accept this as part of running and life.
4) Think happy thoughts. Many have studied the power of positive thinking. And if you’ve ever run for a long distance, you know managing these thoughts is essential. It’s easy to get down and discouraged. And in large measure your race and your life will hinge on how well you can stay positive. Hatred, bitterness and anger will not power you as long as hope, love and happiness.
When I start to get discouraged, my dad has taught me to look around. Inevitably, there is something beautiful to see. There is so much we don’t control in life or on a run, but we can learn to focus in on the good and gain hope and energy from our own happy thoughts.
5) Pack light. You carry whatever you take with you a long way, so you might want to lighten your load.
Once we went backpacking with a family who had never been before. When I saw this man try to make it climbing up a rope out of the canyon we were in, the reason we don’t carry frying pans and steaks with us became abundantly clear. This applies wonderfully to life. We sometimes carry around a lot more than we need because we are afraid to let things go.
6) It’s all right to stop at an aid station. No extra points are given to those runners who whiz by the free help. Running a marathon is hard enough. Take care of yourself. In my life, I’ve figuratively and literally spent years at one aid station or another. We get hurt and we get injured and we have to do what it takes to recover. Listening to your body and spirit will make you a stronger runner and person in the end.
7) Who you are matters more than what you say. Very few of my dad’s lessons were taught through words. And those that were would mean nothing if I didn’t see my dad’s personal struggle and practice applying them. Your children will not take away what you taught them through your words. Allowing yourself to struggle and allowing others, including your children, to see this struggle is how we pass on to them that it is OK to be human.
I’ve learned all these lessons from my dad, but not because he lectured me. I’ve learned these lessons because they are reflected in who he is and who he has become. I am under no delusions that my father is perfect. But by allowing himself to be seen, flaws and all, he has allowed me the same right. This is called integrity, and it is perhaps the most important lesson of all to be learned.
Megan James is an urban planner by profession, a mother to three children, and a lover of running, yoga and art.