Those of you who read my blog on a regular basis know that I’m an avid runner. Those who don’t read my blog on a regular basis, well, now you know too. Because of this fact I often correlate life to running and visa versa. From pacing yourself, to pushing yourself to the affects of stress, I find countless times when my life and my running regiment seem to go hand in hand. So it should have come as no surprise when a recent conversation with a dear friend of mine who’s been walking this journey with me for a while helped me discover yet another example of how life emulates running and it goes a little something like this:
When you run you’re first marathon, the first couple of miles feel pretty good. You’re pumped. You’re full of energy, a little scared and nervous, but confidence is high and you’re ready to roll. You aren’t really sure what to expect having heard stories from other runners. You know there will be difficulties to encounter, but you’re positive and prepared to meet the challenge head on. People around you are very encouraging, telling you, “You’ll do great!,” “If anyone can do this you can,” “Did you know marathon runners lose toe nails during the race,” etc. All in all, despite the knowledge that this is going to be a tough road ahead, you’re full of piss and vinegar and brimming with confidence. The same holds true of the divorced dad. Despite a feeling of complete and utter fear of what’s to come, you’re prepared to meet the challenge head on. Everyone around you is very encouraging, telling you, “You’ll do great!,” “You’re a great dad,” “Did you know marathon runners lose toe nails during the race,” etc.
At mile 5 you’re like, “I got this! Look at me, I’m running a marathon! Holy Crap!” You wave to people along the course, there’s a spring in your step and you’re beaming with pride because YOU are a marathoner. For a divorced dad with kids, the feeling is the same. You’re past the initial shock and starting to recognize that the world isn’t completely falling apart. You’re getting a little more comfortable with the idea of being a single parent and are proud of yourself for managing to figure out how to get the kids fed, clothed and off to school without a need to take them to the emergency room. You haven’t missed a softball game or recital yet. All in all, you’re rockin’ it.
Around mile 10 the honeymoon isn’t quite over yet and you’re actually feeling yourself getting into a good rhythm. You’re determined and feeling good. You think to yourself, “I can do this. I feel alright. Not sure what all the fuss was about.” It’s also a point where you start talking to yourself more. You find yourself giving yourself little thoughts of encouragement, telling yourself to “Keep it up!” and, “You’re doing great!” and “Just ignore that nagging stabbing feeling in your little toe, it’ll go away. Probably just my toe nail falling off.” For the divorced dad, your confidence grows every day as you figure out more and more and get more comfortable managing the kids, work, the house, the yard and everything that goes along with it. You look at yourself in the mirror and say, “Can you believe what I accomplished today?!” It’s all still kind of fresh and you’re feeling a rhythm that has you starting to think “Father of the Year” award and do your best to ignore the nagging pain in your lower back.
Around mile 12 you start to go over numbers. A lot of numbers. Things like, number of miles, average mile, splits, how much further, etc. You start to calculate in your head nonstop and begin attempting to count the number of steps you take in each mile. It starts to become a mental game as the monotony of stride after stride after stride starts to take its toll. It’s similar in a divorce with kids, only the numbers are more like, how much is in the bank account today, how much will be in the account tomorrow, how many cereal bars are left in the pantry, how many lunches have you made for school in the past month, how much money is in the bank account, how much will be in the account when the mortgage is due, was your daughter’s game on field six at seven or on field seven at six? Can you believe gas is almost $4.00 a gallon? That’s just crazy. Do I have enough money in the account for gas? These are all tactics used by your mind to help you avoid the fact that it’s starting to hurt.
At mile 15 you’re like, “I’ve run fifteen miles and I’m still going! I am AWESOME! Look what a great runner I am!” A divorced dad is like, “I just finished three loads of laundry, we had dinner at the table, all the dishes are clean and put away, the kids’ homework is finished, they’re bathed and we still had time to watch an episode of Good Luck Charlie before bedtime. I am an AWESOME DAD!”
At mile 15.25 miles you suddenly realize you aren’t finished, get a cramp and have a sudden craving for beer. For dad the cramp is replaced by a kid who has a bad dream at 3 am and crawls into bed with you placing their foot directly in your face for most of the night.
Then around mile 20 or 21 it happens. You hit a wall. You’re cussing at yourself for signing up for this experience convinced you will die before mile 22. It hurts and you’re noticing pain in places you didn’t even realize you had. People around you are too busy dealing with their own crap to be encouraging and don’t even bother to acknowledge you as they basically walk past you. You start convincing yourself it’s ok if you quit. I mean, come on, look how good you did. You went pretty damn far. No one would blame you for giving up. The numbers in your head are overwhelming and never come to the same total twice. You’re freaking out convinced you won’t have enough to finish and immediately panic because you can’t remember if you paid your insurance premium. Divorced dad is in a similar place. The exuberance you once felt for having a handle on everything is waining. It’s now a matter of survival. You’re tired, overwhelmed and spent convinced you won’t have enough money for Christmas. The routine is old and the energy it takes to keep up with work, three kids, the house, the yard and your blog is taking its toll. This is where you’ve determined, and will say with conviction, that you meant to leave your shoes lying in the middle of the kitchen and that the clutter gives the house an appealing “Lived In” look. You’ve decided that the kids will get peanut butter sandwiches and a slice of cheese for lunch and like it. Making the bed equals cleaning the house. You secretly hope it rains to avoid driving 45 minutes to a softball game and start to wonder what you’ll look like selling newspapers on the corner when you’re homeless. One of the kids comes down with a fever and you immediately panic because you can’t remember if you paid your insurance premium.
But the marathon runner and the divorced dad have an innate inner strength that few will ever understand. Both recognize that all of these negative thoughts are the antithesis of what they truly feel. They love to feel the burn. They crave the aches and pains because those pains make them feel alive. They love the 45 minute drives to softball games because it means some serious one on one time with their kid. And a fire from within pushes them to keep going.
I wrote once that there really is no grand finish line when you’re a parent. But I’ve discovered that honestly that’s not true. Like the marathoner, you eventually cross a finish line you never thought you’d be able to reach. Somehow you reach deep within and find the strength to get past mile 21 and muster through mile 22, mile 23 and eventually mile 26.2. You recognize mile 21 was just a moment and you got past it. You revel in your ability to overcome the negatives and the adversity. It’s hear that you determine how much you love running. Or, how much you LOVE being a divorced dad. There is something special about it. It has its own unique hurdles and it’s own unique victories that only others who have traveled this path will ever truly understand.
The reality is, we’ll all live through many mile 21’s. And some will be harder than others. But you’ll make it. And you’ll revel in crossing the finish line every time. Then you’ll start to prepare for the next marathon and be a little more prepared for the next mile 21.