Everyone loves a good list, and after four previous rounds of my blogging extravaganza “week of lists” posts, I’ve pretty much confirmed the old (if slightly modified) adage: If you write them, they will come. Again, seven days, seven lists: and this time the topic honours my starting-this-week marathon training efforts for the summer of 2013, locked in step and stride on this, the week of lists number five, the Twenty-6-Point-Two Miles Edition.
In this post I perform a somewhat inelegant mash up two key and very important components of my life: being a dad and being a runner. The two are always in a kind of counter-balance for either my time or attention, but simultaneously informing each other, building cooperatively on the effort towards making me a better person (or I think so, anyhow.) Running makes me fitter, while fatherhood makes me… well, many things, and many of THOSE things file into the category of…
6 Reasons Fatherhood Trains You For Marathon Training
1 : Learning the Fundamentals of Consequence
I think we all innately understand consequence: cause and effect. But I think we tend to understand it in degrees or shades that don’t become completely apparent until we shift our perception to the NEXT degree or to the NEXT shade.
Consequence is an important part of running. Some people think it’s all about lacing up and hitting the trails, but SUCCESSFUL running is a balance of body, mind, and spirit… of weighing the consequence of choosing one thing over something else. Or, conversely — and more salient to this point — about needing to sacrifice one thing to attain or grow something else, say giving up hours of your life just to get stronger or faster.
squirmy, noisy, jam-and-dirt-covered packages
Kids are bundles of consequence wrapped in squirmy, noisy, jam-and-dirt-covered packages, reflecting every little decision we’ve ever made back at us like an amplifier of guilt, woe, and anxiety. When we were kids ourselves we learned the very basics of consequence. The folks who are out there writing books and preaching on the various positions of punishment and discipline of children are all hooked, in some way, into the concept of consequence. Cause and effect. Sacrifice and gain.
As parents we get stuck learning about consequence, too, either because we decide we need to be better parents… or because our children force us to be better parents. And those ideas, the notions that every thing we say and do, how we spend nearly every moment of our lives in setting an example or forming a character, has consequence on how our children grow and learn to interact with the world, too.
That same concept holds true for running and training, as well: everything we eat and every way we move, the choices we make every day as we build towards those goals are — like parenting choices — tiny and incremental, but vital for success.
2 : Unlocking the Secrets of Patience
If you’ve never tried parenting, you may not get that at every turn it is little more than an exercise in patience which holds things together. Nothing is scheduled. Everything is slower… except when it’s not, and then it’s too fast and it tries your patience and pushes it to it’s limits.
Kids are learning machines, soakers-in of knowledge and skills: and one of the quickest lessons a new father can absorb is that nearly everything they do in their job as a father actually has very little to do with “supervision” or “play” but rather has everything to do with learning. Kids learn from us the basic skills, from eating their food and zipping their jackets through to brushing their teeth and reading stories at bedtime. But they also need to learn how to interact with friends, how to share, how to have a conversation with a stranger in a store, how to behave in a restaurant, at the zoo, or while sitting still at a wedding. And they learn many these things by the patience of their mothers and fathers, waiting as they slowly work through trial and error, adding multiples of time to just get out the door in the morning, or whittling away the dinner hour picking over a plate of food.
they slowly work through trial and error
Training is a learning process, too. And as adults we may mistakenly start with the impression that we can buckle down for a few weeks and train ourselves into epic and accomplished athletes. But this idea — if it exists at all — would be quickly crushed by a few group runs. It can take months to build even so much as a moderately strong base just to BEGIN thinking about training or something bigger, let alone being ready for more elite practice. It is a slow, patience-testing process. (I’ve been running for over five years and I’m just now starting my marathon work!)
As a dad I am a teacher and a model for a kid. As a runner I am a student. And both of these are acts of patience and practice.
3 : Losing Your Shame
Running is an ugly process. Sure, we wrap it up in neon sneakers, matching headbands, and oh-so-many be-logoed t-shirts that proclaim our sentiments towards wilful perseverance. But when you get right down to it, it’s mostly about sweat and pain and trying to have something resembling little more than a stilted conversation while on the verge of being completely out of breath. We runners overcome our modesty and shame, and just run on.
In fact if I was to have kept track over the years I would wager that one of the primary excuses many non-runners give for avoiding the sport would all distil down to some kind of shame, and in parallel, the aversion to losing it.
I am being acutely de-shamed… day-by-day
As a dad, shame is in short supply. Personally, I live in a house with a wife, a daughter and a female dog. I am acutely outnumbered. I am being acutely de-shamed, day-by-day, simply by living my life.
I used to wonder at the concept of going to the swimming pool and — you know all about this — when in the changing rooms the old guys who all walk around free and open, shameless. I used to think this was a factor of age, of just getting old and not caring, but I more think about it the more I consider that it is probably more that these guys are just old dads — guys with no more need or ability to feel shame — who’ve long since lost their modesty after living through the day-by-day trials of fatherhood for years and years and years.
Look, I’m not saying motherhood is any better. In fact, mothers probably have it worse. But parenting altogether is an act of getting over those stupid hang-ups, the ideas of thinking too much about what other people are thinking about you and just telling it like it is. Or, better, just ignoring it all-round.
Training gets uglier the further and longer you go. I wrote above that running is ugly. But where a five kilometer race is tough and dirty, a half-marathon has the potential to leave a fit and healthy human being as a wreck of flesh and tears. Marathon training? I once heard that you can’t call yourself a TRUE marathoner until you’ve lost control of your bladder or bowels on a race course. Really? Oh… the shame.
4 : Exchanging Your Pride for Being Proud
Pride is just a different face of the personality dice from shame, of course, and many of the points I made in item number three above hold true for pride as well. But then pride is something else altogether, too.
Where with shame it is all about how we hide the extra folds or the funny waddles or the gurgling gasses that escape unhindered from various places no matter how hard we try, pride is an attitude. We think we’re faster than we are, stronger than we could be, that we can or should be able to out-run, out-pace, or show-up a fellow runner. We put too much stock in our role in a group, or we ask “what the hell was THAT guy thinking?” And we’ve all done it. Admit it.
platitudes of the innate parenting ability of the human spirit
As a new parent, pride was force-fed into us by family, friends, and the world as a kind of coping mechanism, I think. On the one hand we got messages of cautious optimism, but there was no balance to that: We were honoured as creators of a new life, showered with gifts and adoration, bolstered with platitudes of the innate parenting ability of the human spirit, and told that we could (really) do no wrong.
And then SHE arrived and (actually) nothing we could do was right. Pride was crushed into a crumpled mess of sleep-deprived worry and feelings of parenting-inadequacy that have barely let up even five and a half years later.
Blossoming out of that crushed pile of broken pride, however, was something similar but quite different: being proud of something, of actually having achieved something worthwhile and seeing it there, living, breathing, riding a bike on her own around the park.
Likewise, the more we run, the more we race, and the more we simply put feets to pavement our attitude of unearned pride is whittled away and replaced by just being proud of having accomplished something with ourselves.
5 : Understanding the Real Value of Fitness
I’ve often told people that the reason I started running was because I became a dad. It’s a good story, and not untrue, but I’d been running before I was a dad… so there is a bit a of a gaping hole in that story. Truth be told, I got BACK into running because I became a dad and some part of me realized darn quick that fatherhood was going to take a lot of endurance.
I was right.
Training can have two faces. We can train to maintain our fitness, or we can train to improve it. There are many, many days… months… seasons when I’ve trained simply to maintain. Not getting much better, but not getting worse. (At least not usually.) But within twenty-four hours of writing this post (and within hours of it getting published) I’ll be switching modes: I’ll be moving from maintaining a half-marathon level of fitness to boosting up to a full-marathon level of fitness.
at levels of my being I probably don’t yet know exist
It’s going to hurt. It’s going to take so much out of me that I dare not even speculate on the depth of change that is likely to come in the next few months: Deep down I will feel it physically, mentally, emotionally, and at levels of my being I probably don’t yet know exist.
A few days ago we upgraded our daughter’s bicycle. Last summer she outgrew her toddler-sized two-wheeler, the one that came pre-built with training wheels, and her knees started knocking the handlebars. She got herself a purple Norco Daisy, with big-kid wheels and a little bell with a floral pattern on top. It moves like the wind.
After pacing her (me on foot, her on bike) half-way around the park at a full on sprint — partially to take some video but the protective-dad in me also trailing in case a sweep-up was required — I slowed to a jog and the thought occurred to me then and there: so, I guess all this running actually just paid off.
6 : Finding Beauty in the Everyday
Many people preach on the idea that running — or any exercise for that matter — is good for your mental well being. I’ve seldom found cause to argue with that logic, and I’m sure if one looked there would be actual, peer-reviewed research to support the claim. But anecdotally there is something more to it as well.
both fatherhood and running have been journeys
Training to run, like fatherhood, is a long game: it’s EASY to put your head down, focus on your feet, and just keep trudging one step at a time, but it’s IMPORTANT to look up and check out where you are and where you’ve been and where you are going, too.
Some people ask me why I blog. Some people ponder why I take photos. I get playful jabs about my interest in videography. And I’ve been told I can get a little bit introspective at times when it comes to my writing or topics of conversation. The thing is that while I may have some innate inclination to be this way, both fatherhood and running have been journeys that have forced me to stop and look up more.
Being a dad is just like this. And running through a fog-sunken river valley on a crisp autumn morning, the still of the air wrapping around you as you are out there and vulnerable and in so many ways completely alone… there is a metaphor there: from fatherhood and back, full circle.