Let’s pretend you’re sitting across from me at a coffee shop, and you’re still a little sweaty from your run. Or maybe you’re not, because you can’t run right now, for one reason or another, because life does that sometimes. And let’s say you’re exhausted. Or frustrated. Or scared. Or worried. Or sad. Or grieving. And let’s say that this time, it’s worse than it’s been before, for one reason or another, because life does that sometimes.
If we were right there, right now, I would tell you that I am so very sorry. I would tell you that you’re not alone. And I would tell you to keep going.
Keep going? you may be thinking. Real original.
I know. It’s the worst, isn’t it?
The truth is, sometimes, I don’t want to be strong. Sometimes, I just want to curl up in the fetal position and close my eyes and call it a day. Or week. Or month. I know that everyone gets tired. Everyone has a busy schedule. Everyone has problems. But there is a difference between being tired and being weary. The former is a feeling. The latter fuses itself to your existence. When you are weary, you feel it every minute of every day. It prods you. It weighs you down. It dulls moments of joy and makes even the slightest inconvenience or disappointment unbearable. There is something raw and vulnerable about weariness. It is personal, because only the most personal of trials can break us down to the point of weariness.
Why a prosaic phrase, then—a “hang in there” admonition that might be found scribbled on a poster at mile twenty of a marathon—to address our deepest hurts?
I guess because “Keep going” is clichéd only in the way “I love you” is clichéd. The depth and meaning of the words change with time, experience, and context. The “I love you” of a teenage crush is not the same as the “I love you” after three kids and sixty-four years of marriage or the “I love you” of a loved one at death.
As runners, we are constantly telling ourselves to keep going. But we understand the phrase is weighted according to our circumstances. The urgency of the words at the end of a marathon—or the middle of one for that matter—is quite different than it is during a hard training run. That’s because our struggle elevates the phrase—not the other way around.
Napoleon Bonaparte once said, “The first virtue in a soldier is endurance of fatigue. Courage is only the second virtue.” His habit of being quite the little scoundrel notwithstanding, Napoleon articulated a profound truth. Weariness is a war of attrition. It’s what makes endurance sport endurance sport: this idea of enduring when everything within us is pleading to stop. Discomfort and fatigue will cloud our vision, numb us to our convictions, and dull the luster of our goals. Pain anesthetizes us to everything but itself. The ultimate challenge of endurance is not to win; it is simply to keep going.
Or, in the words of Winston Churchill (lest we quote only despots): “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” This from a man who became Prime Minister of Great Britain in May of 1940, just as the Third Reich took control of Europe and the Luftwaffe decimated London. “If you’re going through hell, keep going.”
Repeat it. Memorize it. Say it to yourself over and over.
I wanted to write something funny today. I wanted to be hilarious and witty and provoke all sorts of comments like, “I spit out my coffee laughing!” and “Oh, my gosh! That same thing happened to me!” and “You’re so smart and beautiful and I’m going to name my child after you!” (Okay, maybe the last one is a bit of a stretch.)
What came out was, well, not quite that.
So let’s pretend I wrote something funny today, just for kicks. But keep this little note in your pocket. Hold on to it. Because one day, you may need to hear these words, for one reason or another. And maybe, one day, we’ll run into each other at a coffee shop, and you could remind me to keep going, too. Because I may need to hear those words, for one reason or another, because life does that sometimes.
And it helps if we fight together.
Amy L. Marxkors is the author of The Lola Papers: Marathons, Misadventures, and How I Became a Serious Runner and Powered By Hope: The Teri Griege Story. Click here to receive Amy's weekly article via email.