Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Marathon Sprint

When it comes to running, there seem to be three types of people: the sprinters, the marathoners, and the observers. Sprinters are fast but they don't last long. Marathoners might not be that fast, but they go the distance. Observers are... well... they observe and give advice.

In general and metaphorically speaking, most of us are observers neither sprinting nor marathoning, but instead watching others and offering feedback. Outside of observers you mostly encounter sprinters, people who pop out of the gates quickly appearing to have achieved escape velocity, but who more often than not, fizzle out, crashing and burning or simply fading away. Every once and a while, you'll encounter a true marathoner, someone who may not be super fast but who is in it for the duration.

Last night as Iris and I chatted over a Silence of the Yams roll at Bizen, it occurred to me that, over the past couple of years, I've been participating in what I would call a marathon sprint, a metaphorical race that involves running really, really fast for a really, really long time. My recognition of the phenomenon began in the morning talking on the phone with Jonathan. I mentioned to him that I'm hoping to wrap up several pieces of unfinished business over the next couple of days and that I'm looking forward to being more focused on current tasks. I told him that lately I'd felt so unproductive due to all the distractions of old business.

Jonathan replied, "Yeah, that's what I was thinking, 'Man, he's so unproductive!'"

And then he laughed.

OK, so, maybe I haven't actually been un-productive, but I certainly have not felt productive by my standards. And to make up for my poor level of productivity, I've been running faster... and faster... and faster... for a really, really long time.

As Iris and I talked about marathon sprinting, I remembered the original Marathon story that I read as a kid. The first Marathon was in fact, a sprint. The marathoner, Pheidippides, ran 26 miles from a battle on the plains of Marathon to Athens to let the Athenians know that the battle had been won. He reached the gates of Athens with only enough energy left to speak the word 'Victory' and then fell to the ground dead. He'd spent all he had to get word to Athens and ensure that they wouldn't be tricked into surrender.

In these days of careful planning and preparation for marathons, of pacing and fuel loading, of high-tech gadgets and engineered footwear, it seems that the few marathoners are in touch with origins of the event: a man selected for his speed and diligence, given no time to prepare, spending all he had to complete his task.

Anyway, last night, I was feeling as though I were starting to get a handle on it. Clearly I'm not there yet. I mean, I haven't died and there's still more of me to spend. I'm just feeling a little unproductive. So, it's not true marathon... yet. However, I do feel like someone who's spent the last year-and-a-half in finals week.

The funny thing is that it only "feels" that way some times. Most of the time I don't notice. So, which is the real deal? The feeling like I've been running a marathon sprint, or the feeling that nothing special is going on. I guess they're both real. But the thing that pops out for me this morning is that when we talk about emotions and feelings, we typically speak of the short-cycle, focused ones: the anger regarding this event or the sadness regarding that event. We don't talk about the long-cycle, unfocused ones: long-term imperceptible shifts in how we feel and act.

As humans, we're not good at discerning change that occurs slowly over time. We don't notice how tall our kids have gotten until a friend who hasn't seen them for a while points it out. We don't notice the piano going out of tune until we try to accompany someone on violin. We don't notice the paint fading on the walls until we hold up a sample of the original.

We don't talk about long-cycle emotional and behavioral shifts because we don't see them.

However, every once and a while, we're provided clues. For me, it's a sense of not being productive despite all evidence to the contrary. It's the feeling of having spent the last year in finals week. It's the occasional sense of exhaustion that accompanies sprinting a marathon.

I'm not sure where this will lead me. I'm not sure of how to explore it or what to do about it. I'm not sure that there's anything to be done. It's just a starting point. But, I'm going to start by paying attention to it.

Have you experienced long-cycle changes that are hard to spot in the moment? How did you see them? What did you do with them? I'd love to know.

Happy Wednesday,
Teflon

1 comment:

  1. I don't know if this makes sense to you, but the first marathon was not a sprint - neither are the winners of todays marathons.
    Sprint is when you run on your fore-food. I'm pretty sure that was not his style - he was probably more like me: running, walking, running and ending completely dehydrated.

    Traditionally longdistances run was "rolling from heal to toe" - similar to walking in MTB shoes - todays marathonwinners are having "midle distance running style" landing on the middle of the foot.

    Why is this important? well if you are off for a spring you need a long recovery time compared to the distance you run - you need planning to do great sprints. Finishing a marathon as doing X sprints is like the behavior Jerry Maguire has when he is doing simultaneous phone calls.

    Running 421 times 100 m is not the same as doing a marathon. Some peole likes the 100 m some likes to 42,1 km, some likes both - at seperate times.

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