In case you missed it, last week I posted my thoughts on how life is about enjoying the journey and I used the Hatfield McCoy Marathon (Blackberry Mountain course) as a metaphor for this idea. This week I bring you a metaphor regarding the opposite side of the debate: life is about the destination. I am sure some might find it as “against the grain,” but stick around at least for some good pictures.
Running a marathon is a perfect example of both enjoying the journey and the destination.
You’ve all heard what they say about running marathons, right?
It’s downright one of the worst experiences you could ever put your body through, especially when you are at mile 20 and you can’t convince yourself that you can take one more step. Six more miles to go! “It’s only a 10K left,” you say to yourself.
Long distance runners call it The Wall.
The moment where nothing is left physically, mentally, or emotionally… that is The Wall.
Does life have The Wall? Absolutely. Depression, death, addiction, financial trouble, all of the above plus endless combinations of never-ending little things.
Sometimes our journey can be rough. Our journey could be one problem after another, always hoping for a piece of flat land to regain our stride, but never finding the peace we desperately need to push through The Wall.
River Road course of the Hatfield McCoy marathon was that kind of journey for me.
Don’t get me wrong… River Road, golf course, and Aflex were all beautiful. The course meandered along the mighty Tug River for essentially 13.1 long, punishing miles. We can certainly use the same tactics that we learned over the first 13.1 miles: we can look around at the scenery, feed off of the encouraging signs welcoming back previous runners, or engage with the people around us. At some point, though, the smiling, laughing, and picture-taking fail to bring us happiness.
What happens when our strategies for life stop being effective?
My journey along the race route that featured mud, packed gravel, potholes, a swinging bridge, and endless hills put me in survival mode.
Just get through it, they say. Get through life? That’s not a great way to live. We should seek to thrive through life. Those hills keep coming, little problems, big problems, every size in between, each one breaking us down emotionally and physically. Each one flirting with The Wall. We look ahead to the crest of a hill and think, “for every uphill there is a downhill!,” which doesn’t even last long enough to catch our breath. Another hill. Another challenge. Another setback. Thriving through life is not even on our radar anymore.
So just get through it, eh? How, smarty pants?
Keep our eyes on the destination.
Remember that finish line celebration for those who completed the first half of the marathon? If you were one of those runners, people were along the streets cheering for you and your accomplishment. You crossed the line when a sweet lady handed you a small towel soaked in ice water. Fruit, water, and sports drinks were in your sights, but before you could get there another sweet lady placed a beautiful medal around your neck—your coronation.
You might have cried out of relief or joy. You probably hugged someone, maybe even a stranger. You probably took a moment to thank whatever Higher Power you have for your abilities. The finish line was made sweeter because you chose to enjoy the journey.
However, I was a runner who had to keep going; my journey was only half finished.
I survived Blackberry Mountain. I survived the big challenge. And I went on to thrive through it by enjoying my journey despite the challenge.
But my race, really, had just begun.
It wasn’t like I hadn’t run this race before. I’ve been there through the ups and downs (literally and metaphorically) of River Road course. My thoughts last year were along the lines of “I’ve-never-done-this-before-so-I’m-just-going-to-keep-smiling-it’s-got-to-get-better-right?!” I had a lot of fun, though re-reading my race recap from last year revealed that my emotions for the second half of the race were exactly the same as 2014.
From that post, with regards to the hills of River Road course:
“After 13.1 miles those hills are horrendous on a person’s spirit. I was mentally broken around mile 18. I was emotionally broken around mile 22.”
Mentally and emotionally, so not quite The Wall. How did I continue on my journey each year?
I focused on my destination.
Where was I going? The land of milk & honey? Eventually, yes, but for over five hours on a mostly sunny Saturday in June my destination was the finish line. The land of ice cold towels, fruits, and hugs.
I kept getting slower as the sun crept higher in the sky, but my motivation grew only stronger.
I needed to see others crossing the finish line at the first half in order for me to visualize my own end point. I needed to see others not through the eyes of resentment because they won their battles already, but through the eyes of encouragement and celebration of their fortitude.
Resentment could have taken hold of my thoughts in the form of “my battles are harder than theirs” or “those people have no idea what it’s like to hit the rolling hills of the second half.” And, confession: these thoughts were actually present in my mind.
But I remembered that every person is unique and has an equally unique struggle.
Resentment tears down, encouragement builds up.
I had to choose my own personal happiness, keep giving thumbs up and high fives, and be willing to shift my perspective to the destination… because my journey was about to become a terribly difficult experience. You get what you give. And I want to give encouragement and celebration every day.
So I had to choose to fixate upon my destination throughout the River Road course. Even now when I recall the race, I choose to remember family friends and stranger “friends” cheering for me as I approached downtown Williamson, West Virginia. I choose to remember the sweet lady who placed that ice cold towel on top of my head. I choose to remember the weight of the medal as the ribbon pressed against the back of my sun-burnt neck. The destination was my happiness.
My mother met me at the line this year. My dad met me last year. Both hugged me and told me they were proud of my accomplishment as I sobbed tears of relief and joy!
It took me an extra three minutes to fight through this race in 2014 in almost the exact same conditions as last year. This race was my fourth round of 26.2 miles, so you would think I would have been prepared for the ups and downs this time? I wanted revenge on River Road course more than anything! I was prepared.
No matter how well you are prepared, sometimes your life’s version of River Road course attempts to break you. Visualize your destination when your journey is too much to handle. It might try to break you, but “when you are weak, you are strong.” Visualize your destination and enjoy it even before you get there!
When you realize your life is full of one struggle after another, when you can barely bring yourself to face another fight, I think it’s okay to change your perspective to that of a finish line. Keep moving with motivation! You will eventually emerge from the rolling hills of struggle to a stretch of flat land, a Dairy Queen, and a whole community of support waiting for you at the finish line.
And our finish line has the best banana you’ve ever had in your whole life.
Point of personal privilege: when I wrote “a whole community of support waiting for you at the finish line” in the paragraph above I really meant it from the race perspective. This week’s post was delayed in publishing because I have been grieving the loss of a hometown friend. Last night, a very large percentage of our community, the same people who volunteer year-after-year for the Hatfield McCoy Marathon races, gathered to honor the memory of one of its sons. Scott Poole certainly enjoyed his life’s journey. And as for enjoying the destination, I picture him smiling and at peace in the beautiful mountains of Heaven. Our community comes out every June to support the races and the finish lines, and last night the community came out to support Scott’s ultimate finish line. Rest easy, my friend.