It is possible to work smarter rather than harder, lighter rather than heavier, and stronger rather than weaker. It all depends on our preparation, attitude, orientation, and approach to life. I learned this all over again at yesterday’s Richmond marathon. Read on for the details.
Time for another installment of the series within the series • Let Go, Let God — or my reflections on 26.2 miles worth of life. For those of you who are not marathon runners and have no interest in running, I beg your pardon. I will try to keep the running details to a minimum and the life lessons to a maximum. They are, indeed, here for the picking.
Five weeks ago after running a disappointing marathon in Cleveland, Ohio, a marathon where I pooped out in the second half of the race, I wrote about my experience and about my intention to pace my best friend from high school to his first marathon in Richmond, Virginia. The Richmond race took place yesterday under perfect conditions with a perfect outcome. Our primary goal was to finish; our secondary goal was to finish in less than 4 hours. We did both, running the first half in 1:58:49 and the second half in 1:59:32 for a total of 3:58:21. That brought us in somewhere around 900th place, out of a total of 2,020 runners who finished the race. Not bad for someone who just decided to do this three months ago.
Jim was, of course, already running at that point. Running was proving to be a great emotional release for some of the changes he was going through. “You want to really let it all go?” I asked him one night on the telephone. “Why not run your first marathon? With my wife teaching at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, I’ll be running the Richmond marathon on November 18. Why don’t you get ready for that one and I’ll pace you to the finish line.” Jim took the bait.
I sent him a training schedule, modified by the time we had to work with, and checked in with him from time to time by telephone and e-mail. We covered all the bases: training for endurance and training for speed, clothing, shoes, nutrition, race registration, injury prevention, pre-race and post-race strategies. Still, the day before the race when we drove the course, there was the nagging recognition that 26.2 miles (or 42.25 kilometers) is truly a long way. Having never actually run that distance before, and with a somewhat truncated training schedule, could he do it? Let alone in 4 hours?
The two weeks before the race, Jim had had a bad cold. And I had been dealing with a variety of hamstring injuries. Jim had spent more time sleeping, to shake off his cold, than anything else before the race. Given that he was tapering for the race, sleeping was as good a strategy as any. I had also backed off from running, substituting cross training such as water running and swimming as well as cross-country skiing and elliptical cross-training machines. Backing off was exactly what the two of us needed. The Spirit had a way of speaking and ministering to our spirits; by race morning we both felt better than either one of us had in the past two weeks.
The Spirit did a number on the weather as well. It was wet and windy the day before, but November 18 arrived to cool and clear skies with a very light wind • near perfect conditions. The course was also well designed for both runners and spectators. The hills were enough to provide challenge as well as relief, without too much for the everyday runner. The course covered urban neighborhoods, downtown skylines, and wilderness areas with flowing rivers and changing leaves. It was, in fact, the best variety of city and stream that I have encountered in a marathon course.
My job was to simply keep the pace, making sure we did not go out too fast in the first part of the race and that we did not slow down too much in the second half of the race. What a tremendous shift in focus from my self to my running partner. Instead of pushing, pushing, pushing for my own personal best, I relaxed at the prospect of running “an easy marathon.” This relaxation gave me the ability to run smarter rather than harder, lighter rather than heavier, and stronger rather than weaker. These are core lessons that can be applied to every aspect of life.
Smarter not Harder. If there’s a watchword in business today, it’s working smarter rather than harder. Few people know what that means, however, and downsizing companies have often glommed onto this as a justification for the impossible demands they place upon the survivors. There comes a point where no amount of smarts can get the job done. But when the job is appropriately scaled, there are things you can do to make it easier.
First, you can pace yourself from the beginning. Going out too fast will cause you to poop out in the end, before the job is done. Going out too slow will make it impossible to ever catch up. Second, you can enjoy the sights and sounds along the way. These often occur in our peripheral vision, outside our immediate focus. Catching these sights and sounds can be as simple as looking to the left or right once in a while, rather than always straight ahead. There’s a river out there, if we but take the time to look. Third, you can stop to stretch and be comfortable. Too often we get going on a project and, like a ball rolling downhill, we build up so much momentum that stopping becomes practically impossible. Frequent short stops, from the beginning of a run or a project, enable you to avoid the frenzy and maintain your equilibrium.
Lighter not Heavier. Pushing, pushing, pushing quickly takes all the fun out of just about any activity. There’s no better way to run • or to go through life • than to let go of the push and to catch hold of the pull. We push when we reach beyond our capacity. What causes that? It may come from friends and family, who have their own ideas of our capacity. It may also come from ignorance, either of our capacity or of the project demands. It may finally come from ambition, either positive or negative, that pushes us beyond our own (and sometimes anyone else’s) capacity.
Laughing is a good way to lighten the load, even if nothing is particularly funny. Laugh and the whole world laughs with you is a true adage. At one point in the race I asked for someone to tell a joke. My request was met with dead silence and looks of incredulity. Joke at a time like this? Yes! I traipsed out one of my old jokes, got a few laughs, and moved on. We definitely need to laugh more. Gratitude is another way to lighten the load. Every time you notice that someone or something is being supportive or nice, find a way to say, “Thank you!” Even a hard heart can be softened by expressions of appreciation. When running a marathon, I especially like to thank those who bring music or organize cheers. I also like to thank God for beautiful sights, sounds, and smells. Giving thanks pulls me to the finish line more than anything else.
Stronger not Weaker. Being relaxed makes an incredible difference going into a race or a project. It fills you with a sense of strength, a can-do attitude, and a quiet but confident resolve. We know the outcome before we begin. By the time I reached the starting line of the Tow Path Marathon, I had already psyched myself out as to my ability to run a sub-3:25 marathon on that particular day. As a result I was tense, jittery, and insecure. Yesterday was a very different experience. At the starting line I knew two things: (1.) a sub-4 hour marathon was no problem for me, and (2.) if we didn’t run a sub-4 hour marathon it didn’t matter because I was running to support and pace my friend. One thing was certain: my finish time wasn’t up to me. Barring injury, I would stay with my friend to the end. This enabled me to disinvest myself from the outcome of the race.
Talk about an empowering, strengthening, and freeing position! We should all be so lucky, at the start of every race or project. To know, first of all, that it is entirely within our capacity to reach the goal and to know, second of all, that not reaching the goal in no way diminishes our identity, worth, or value. The goal can be important, but it’s not that important. After all, it’s not like we’re setting world records here. We’re simply having experiences to learn and grow, as best we can, through the trek of life. If we prepare properly, assess our capacity honestly, and keep the results in proper perspective before the race, we will have far more strength along the way.
These three lessons highlight the power of relaxation. Next week we’ll get back to Gallwey’s three conversations. In the meantime I trust and pray that you too will have the experience of working smarter rather than harder, lighter rather than heavier, and stronger rather than weaker. It is a wonderful way to be.
May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.
Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC
President, LifeTrek Coaching International, www.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformation, www.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coaching, www.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a Time, Online Retailers
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