We’re In A Marathon, Not a Sprint

“Do you not know that in a race the runners all compete, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win it.”

1 Corinthians 9:24 (NRSV)

It seems to me, based on conversations I’ve been having with people lately, as well as my own family’s experience, that we are faced with the need for what might be called endurance. Each week it seems like the end of this whole COVID-19 thing is no closer than the previous week.  It’s one thing to cope with difficulty for a short period; and another thing to keep on coping.

And keep on coping.

And keep on coping.

Most of us can kind of grit our teeth, and cope for the short haul, but at some point, our jaw muscles and teeth start to protest. The long haul requires a different approach. It’s kind of like the difference between a sprint and a marathon.

Back in the day, I ran track and cross-country. While I’ve never run a marathon, I have sprinted and run longer distances. Sprinting is the grit-your-teeth option. You explode out of the blocks. You strain toward the finish line with every ounce of energy. It’s about power. There’s a reason steroids helped Ben Johnson, back in the 80s (I got his autograph at a track meet, before the steroids. He seemed quite nice).

Running a marathon is not about power but endurance. It’s more relaxed. Distance runners pour everything they’ve got into the race, just like sprinters, but they pour more slowly. Exploding and straining is great for sprinting but try that for 26 miles, and you might end up like the very first marathon runner.  If you don’t know the story, he died. Side note: I looked it up, and while the dude did die it was after running over 150 miles not 26!  [https://www.runnersworld.com/runners-stories/a20836761/the-real-pheidippides-story/])

The pain and suffering in a sprint ends quickly.  In a marathon, you guessed it, the pain and suffering goes on and on.  To run a marathon, you need to be able to tolerate a bunch of unpleasant things. As a therapist I encourage (aka bug) people all the time to work on developing greater tolerance.  This might be tolerating painful, icky, awful feelings. Oddly enough, it can also be tolerating calm, good feelings.

In the scripture verse above, Paul seems to be encouraging a similar view.  Think about how you are running. What is needed in the specific race, faced with competitors? If you don’t pace yourself wisely, one of your competitors will receive the gold medal. I might suggest that the competitors we face right now are feelings like frustration, fear and worry, annoyance (come on, admit it: sometimes being cooped up with your family can be… a challenge), and plain old boredom.

One of the hardest to face is uncertainty.  COVID-19 and the headlines we read each day inspire uncertainty.  I’d like to share a resource which landed in my inbox a few weeks ago.  “Tolerance for Uncertainty: A COVID-19 Workbook.” [https://j8v.b36.myftpupload.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/tolerance_of_uncertainty_nagasawa.pdf]  It’s very helpful, not only for uncertainty but any difficult feeling you may be facing.  Many thanks to Dr. Sachiko Nagasawa of North Bay, for generously offering this, free of charge. [https://www.baypsychology.ca/]

She covers a lot of ground in this workbook; while all of it may not fit for you, I think you’ll find something relevant among the many ideas and strategies presented. If you have questions about anything in the book, feel free to email me, and I’ll do my best to help explain and answer questions.

by Chris Lindsay

Registered Social Worker, Counsellor, and Psychotherapist