I ran yesterday, pounded out three miles on the treadmill while Katie played happily on the floor beside me. The end of the show I was watching came earlier than the end of my workout, and so I found myself going the last half mile without distraction, my steps punctuated by my daughter’s coos, by the rattle of her plastic keys as she waved them in the air.
I have difficulty keeping a train of thought as I near the end of a treadmill run. I try, oh how I try, but any attempts at prayer or contemplation or even composing an agenda for the rest of the day become interrupted by an animal focus on the deathly slow march of my progress, on how long each second takes to pass, on how “surely I must have gone a quarter mile by now oh shoot it’s only been one-one hundredth of a mile”. Yesterday, though, I found myself thinking about running and why on earth I do this to myself, why I spend the time on the treadmill when I could be reading or writing or sleeping or any number of other useful occupations.
It was at this point – the point when I was thinking I was really a fool for running – that I had one of the more irrational thoughts I’ve had in my life: “Hey! I should train for a marathon!”
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An aside: I do like running. I do. I love how I feel during the in-between – once I’ve warmed up but before I’ve pushed too hard – and I love how much more awake and aware and alive I feel on the afternoons of the days when I’ve had my time on the treadmill. But I’m crawling my way back to running shape, and I don’t always love the end of the run when I am tired and sweaty and ready to quit.
And when it’s a stretch for me to find the time and the energy to go three miles at once, thinking I should try for a marathon is more than a little crazy.
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Thanks to Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman, it’s common now to have a bucket list – a set of goals you want to accomplish before you die. It’s a lovely idea, really, a good reminder that we only get to live this life once, that we should get out there and do big things. It inspires people to dream, to try new things, to do what they can to experience life to its fullest.
I don’t really have a formal bucket list, but if I did, it might include things like climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, or hiking in Alaska, or diving in the Caribbean. I’d like to read the complete works of Shakespeare, to publish a book, to grow a garden. And there are days when the nutty side takes hold and I think I might like to run a marathon.
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So there I was, gasping through my last few minutes of my run, thinking I should work towards going 26.1 miles in one go. I thought about bucket lists, about “the time is now”, about having that feat under my belt. The question came, perhaps not coincidentally, as I began my last push, my last sprint towards the end of the workout: If I did this thing, if I ran a marathon, what would that mean to me? How would it make my life better?
There are some obvious answers, of course – it would provide a sense of accomplishment, an element of pride that I could do it. It would help me practice discipline. I would be healthier, in better shape. Working toward a goal – especially a difficult goal – is a worthwhile exercise, one that builds character and endurance and patience.
All of these are good things. But at the end of the day, after that finish line was crossed, life would return to normal and the moment would fade. It would become a memory. A good one, perhaps, one from which I learned important lessons, but still, ultimately, something of the past.
If the reason for my running became being able to do a marathon, the sole purpose for getting on the treadmill or on the trail each day, then my focus would be on the future, on this one event that would come and go and then what? Big goals, big dreams – they’re admirable and good and worth pursuing, but if they are my focus, my purpose, my reason for getting out of bed, what happens when they’re accomplished and life returns to what it was?
Bucket list items are lovely and wonderful and good. Checking them off can result in beautiful memories. But they are only blips, only brief sentences in the books that are our lives. I want my focus to be on the meat of my life, the everyday, the seemingly ordinary interactions and events and moments that make up the majority of my time here on earth. I want to live for those moments – to enjoy running because of how it boosts my energy and makes me feel alive in the present, to love the act of creating that writing brings even if nobody else ever reads it, to go on hikes and walks with my family here in the corner of creation I call home, to savor what I have right here, right now.
I still might run a marathon some day, and I really hope to publish that book. But those things? They’re just gravy. They’re just bonuses, extras on top of the small, beautiful, wonderful things that are my every day.