I ran my first half marathon wildly unprepared. My friend and I had been dabbling in running but I don’t think either of us had run more than 6 miles in our lives before that day. We were in fairly decent shape, so we thought we’d be okay. We were not okay. Halfway through, knees were buckling, feet were blistering, lungs were giving out. So her dad, there to cheer us on, began driving to the next mile marker to wait for us. We could not wrap our brains (or our bodies) around 7 more miles, but we knew we could make it to him. We could do one more mile. And so we did. We did one more. And then he moved up one mile. And we did another and another until we were the smiling girls in this photo, crossing that finish line.
While the obvious lesson that day was that proper training is necessary when setting lofty goals, that’s not what I remember. That’s not the lesson that stuck. I learned that two things are required to do hard things. First, when life feels overwhelming, don’t think about the 13 miles you have to finish. That’s often too much to handle at one time. Focusing on the massive distance ahead of you will make you feel every side stitch, make every step more grueling than the last. Just run one mile. Get through one day, one hour, one assignment. Do one little hard thing and then do the next. A mile at a time is more manageable. The end result? You cross that finish line without quitting.
Second, get you someone who will show up and meet you at every mile. Someone who will pace you, listen to your cries, watch you throw up your hands in defeat, and then tell you they’ll meet you in one mile, because they know how capable you are and they are going to believe that for you until you believe it for yourself. Surround yourself with people who will encourage you if you need it or drag you those last few feet if you can no longer carry yourself. And then be that person in return.
I think about that race often. It fundamentally changed how I viewed hard things. While I would never recommend running a half marathon without proper preparation, it gifted me with an experience that altered my perspective indefinitely. When my husband was severely injured in an ATV accident, I didn’t focus on whether he’d walk again, instead I focused on his lab results that day. One mile. When I was getting my master’s, viewing the massive requirements over the course of the program was too overwhelming, so I’d break it down week by week. One mile.
I don’t always remember to implement that way of thinking. I’ve been a quitter and one-miler only many times in my life. But I now exist with that knowledge. And it makes me feel a little more equipped to deal with hard things. It also makes me grateful, on days like today when life just feels particularly hard, that I have people waiting for me, believing that I’ll tackle this dumb mile and meet them up ahead.