In his book, Profiles in Courage, John F. Kennedy said that while “mothers may still want their favorite sons to grow up to be President… they do not want them to become politicians in the process.”
Aside from the fact that I’d add the word daughters to the sentiment, Jack was spot on. We all want to get to where we want to be without the ordeal of getting there. No matter how grand the destination, the Process is usually anything but.
Ugh. The Process.
You know the Process. It’s what happens between Point A and Point B. And between Point B and Point C. And between all the points of alphabetical or numerical significance.
Here’s a picture I found that illustrates the Process.
(Note: I found this little gem on the Twitter page of @GerryMoran. Apparently, he’s a social media and marketing strategist who likes Bruce Springsteen.)
In case you were wondering, the squiggly part is the Process. It looks so messy, doesn’t it? It seems so roundabout, so ineffective, so unnecessary. But what’s crazy is that the Process is the most necessary thing about the whole picture. The Process isn’t the best way to get from Point A to Point B. It’s the only way.
So here’s my question. If I know the Process is messy and confusing, if I know the Process will double back a time or two or a hundred, if I know the Process isn’t linear, why do I always freak out when I’m in the middle of it?
Riddle me that, Batman.
And I’m not talking a minor freak out, an I’m-having-a-bad-day, this-too-shall-pass kind of freak out that can be quelled with a cup of tea and an episode of Murder, She Wrote. I’m talking an 8-week-long existential crisis. And a canceled hotel reservation. And extensive, impassioned speeches explaining that “I was going to race the Monumental Marathon, but—” [insert self-effacing shrug and knowing smile]—“it’s just not the season.”
Life. Whataya gonna do?
Currently, I am 8 weeks into an 18-week marathon training program. As you may have deduced, it’s not going swimmingly.
Okay, let’s be honest here. My training rarely goes swimmingly—and not because of persistent injuries or recurring stresses and the like, because I haven’t had those (knock on wood). Swimmingly is simply not how I roll. I like to make things difficult. I like to learn the same lessons twice. Or even thrice. I like to overthink. And, most importantly, I like to compare myself to others and to my own past performances.
My own best past performances.
Oh! You ran a workout today! the little voice in my head cuts in. How lovely! Oh, you ran it in [insert time]. Oh, that’s… nice. I don’t want to be rude—far be it from me to insult you!—but do you happen to remember that little workout you ran last spring? The one at Washington University? Yes! That one! Well, you were so much faster then! Why, you crushed that workout! And now… well… what happened?
That’s really all it takes for me to start questioning my ability, my training program, and the entirety of my existence.
Shouldn’t I be faster by now?
Am I overtraining? Am I undertraining?
Why can’t I hit my times?
What if this is it? What if I never run fast again?
Thus, one bad workout spirals into another, which spirals into another, which spirals into another until, 8 weeks later, I cancel my hotel reservation.
This, my friends, is the deep, dark abyss of the Process. Last Saturday, my schedule called for a long run of 18 miles with 12 miles at marathon race pace. I was not optimistic. Until that point, I had not hit a single workout or tempo run.
Not. A. One.
I’m not exaggerating. The closest I had been to completing a workout as scheduled was 3 weeks ago. I was supposed to run 11 miles with 5 at half marathon race pace. I ran 2 miles at half marathon race pace, stopped to walk, ran another mile at pace, and then called it a day.
Thus, on Saturday, I met Jackie at Forest Park with as many disclaimers as I could finagle. I truly didn’t know what to expect.
Incredibly… we crushed it. I have no idea why.
Oh, wait. Yes, I do.
“You’ve got to trust the process,” Jackie told me as we made our triumphant third lap around the park. “It took me 3 years—3 years!—to train for the Olympic [marathon] trials. It was a process.”
I always forget the circuitous nature of the Process. After running a PR in the GO! St. Louis Marathon, I thought I had finally taken my running to the next level. I signed up for my another marathon and envisioned a season of training and racing bests all waiting to be claimed.
Instead, I’ve suffered two solid months of bad runs. But just when I was ready to surrender my dreams of another PR, the Process looped back around. I had a good run—no, a great run—on Saturday. I was back on track.
Hello, Hilton reservations desk!
The Process is fascinating to me. It is, like the sport, deceptively simple, yet it is built on layers upon layers. It does, like the sport, require patience and perseverance. The Process is days and weeks and months and years. As John L. Parker, Jr. stated so famously in his book, Once A Runner, it is “The Trial of Miles; the Miles of Trials. How could he make them understand?”
I am still trying to understand the Process. At least, I’m trying to coexist with it. Impatience and self-doubt get in the way more than I’d like to admit. But when that happens, I try to focus less on the numbers on my watch and more on the task at hand.
Professional runner and Olympian Kate Grace, who recently competed in the 1500-meters in Rio, has a note hanging up in the mirror in her bedroom. It says simply, “Chop wood and carry water.”
In other words, do the work. Day in, day out. And the Process will come through.
Like the sport, it always does.
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.