Saturday, February 1, 2014

“Do or Do Not! There is no try.”

If you have seen Star Wars you may remember this phrase from the Grand Master Jedi Yoda when he is training Luke Skywalker.     The message was clear, commit yourself to the effort or don’t bother, there is no in between.

We all have our favorite phrases that stay with us long after we see the movie and get reused in daily life to drive home a point.    Who hasn’t heard the Arnold Schwarzenegger phrase from The Terminator (“I’ll be back”),  or snickered at Tatum O’Neil responding to her con artist father’s statement that he has scruples (No, I don't know what it is, but if you got 'em, it's a sure bet they belong to somebody else!).   There are so many great lines/scenes in the movie Parenthood.   Steve Martin asks his sick daughter  “Do you feel like you wanna throw up?” and she responds “OK” and proceeds to do so all over him.   Or when a teenage dad to be talks about how his father beat and tortured him saying “….you need a license to buy a dog, to drive a car - hell, you even need a license to catch a fish. But they'll let any #@$%&#  be a father”.

But my favorite comes from Cloris Leachman in Spanglish.   Speaking to her daughter who realizes her affair may ruin her marriage  “Lately your low self-esteem is just good common sense.”.

But I digress…forgive me, it’s an age thing.   So back to Yoda.    While one could argue Yoda’s philosophy on attempting new challenges is not appropriate in all situations,  it certainly is a mantra for a successfully completing a marathon.   You are either all in or you’re not, there is little room for maybe.     Oh sure, you might hear people in the midst of training for a marathon say they are “attempting” to run one but behind the scenes they are either committed or they aren’t.    No rational person committed to running a marathon (and I use the “rational person” loosely in this context) gets up in the wee hours of the morning,  when it is cold and dark,  and runs for a couple of hours because they are thinking they might TRY a marathon. 

 The commitment comes with the goal, you are either focused on completing it (and willing to put in the work) or you might as well save yourself some grief and stay in your warm bed.   I’m afraid there is no half-way.    In the words of Theodore Roosevelt, “Believe you can and you are half way there”.   The reverse is also true.

I’ve mentioned in the past that I believe a marathon is as much mental as physical.    No matter how good or well trained you are, there will be a point in the race where your mind says go and your body says no.    The combination of running out of fuel (no matter how much energy Goo and drink you take), the breaking down of your shoes, and the atrophy of your muscles will combine to make every step a significant, if not painful, effort.   What keeps runners going at this point is their mental strength, their ability to ignore the signals from their body telling them to stop or the goblins in their head that are telling them they can’t do this.  

 I’ve heard healthy, mostly well-adjusted, reasonably intelligent people tell me there is no way they could run a marathon.    Despite the fact I have said repeatedly that anyone can complete a marathon, I agree with them.   They have defeated themselves before they ever started and as long as they hold that mental image it ain’t happening.   

So, what gives the ordinary middle aged person who has never run a race in their life the motivation to run a marathon?   There is a story behind every marathoner and most are pretty interesting.   For some it is the glory of the race, the attempt to be among the elite, either overall or in their age group.  For some it may be to test the limits of their physical strength, competing not with the rest of the runners but with their own personal goals.  For many it is just proving they have the mental and physical fortitude to set that goal and make it to the finish line.   These runners are often running for more than themselves, carrying with them a cause of helping someone else or keeping a memory of a loved one alive.  Some wear their story on their t-shirts on race day, running for a cause that may be universal (cancer, liver disease, Heart Association, our lost military brothers etc.) or personal (in memory of my dad, mom, brother, sister, son, daughter etc.).   Regardless of their cause they have one thing in common, all are committed.   For them there is no “try”.

There was a time many years ago when I was among the first two groups, running Boston for time and glory.   Those days are long gone, obliterated by age and years of accumulated injuries.   Today I run with the third group in memory of my son Nick who can’t, and to help others whose current life challenges dwarf running a marathon.    And on Patriots Day, God willing, I will be joining 36,000 other committed runners who for many months have laced up their shoes, left doubt at the doorstep, and headed out to make crossing the finish line a reality.

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