It’s not just me. Running a marathon feels amazing, and those of us who manage it can claim lifetime bragging rights. But something happens in the month after a race that is a little less lovely. Post-marathon blues. The structure of training is over. The accumulating victories over longer and longer distances end. The happy ache of muscle is replaced by genuine flabbiness within just a couple weeks. My much-deserved rest turns on me and becomes apathy. Five miles is harder than 15 miles used to be. And I just don’t know if I want to do anything about it.
I am still living in the wake of my most recent marathon. (Internal chuckle. I’ve only run two of them, so I’m hardly what one could call experienced.) I’m proud of myself. I’m injury free. My immune system has bounced back, as has a modicum of enjoyment in early morning runs. So I’m good, right? Honestly, not quite.
The trouble with a marathon is that it transforms you, and it doesn’t. To carry oneself such a great distance, using only the resources one contains: muscle, breath, determination. Wowza! I didn’t know I had such strength in me; I carry it with me into every new challenge, reminding myself that I’m stronger than I think I am and can do more than I ever imagined! And yet...I’m still just me. I need to lose 10 pounds. I can’t get away with dessert everyday or a whole bag of Doritos in one sitting. I wake up to the sound of a 5 a.m. alarm and I DON’T want to get up. Sometimes my life feels more like obligation than privilege.
But I’m a marathoner now! Right? Day to day challenges and grievances are no match for my positive attitude and can-do spirit! Umm.
So I sit hear wishing I were Superwoman. I wish finishing a race was like inheriting a superpower, costume included, so that I wouldn’t be haunted by the same ol’ self-doubt, self-pity, and, yes, occasional profound selfishness. Alas, it is not so. The battle is never entirely won, and the runner must keep on running.
I’m reminded of something I observed as a teacher: the sad phenomenon of self-sabotage. Sometimes it is easier to just not try than to try and come up short. Sometimes it feels safer to follow up a success with a serious failure, just so no one will start to expect greatness all the time. I mean, who can live up to that? Not me. So don’t look here for inspiration.
I remember being sad when a student couldn’t risk bigger dreams or a better future because of fear. I wanted to scoop them up and transport them, through space and time, to a place of complete safety and acceptance. I wanted them to know they are worthy of unconditional love. Then they could risk it, try it, dream it, do it! On occasion, we managed a portion of progress toward this end. A kid saw him or herself more clearly, with an awareness of promise and potential. Simultaneously a privilege and an obligation, they decided they owed something to themselves.
So, I am trying to embrace my post-marathon blues. Because this is life: the privilege and obligation of not standing still. I finished a race, but there are more to run. Today, I feel discouraged and a little resentful. It’s okay. I owe it to myself to accept myself in this moment and choose to continue into the next moment. There is no final victory...not yet. God lives in this space for me. Safety and acceptance. Promise and potential. Unconditional love. The race isn’t over.