Monday, May 3, 2010

One More

A few weeks ago the Carlisle Family YMCA held its first indoor triathlon. This included an 800 yard swim, a 12 mile bike, and a 5K run. I'm a quasi-marathoner, part-time runner, and one-time sprint triathlete. I am not a swimmer and I am not a biker. I've labored through enough races to know that the success of your race is directly proportional to your preparation. Tossing aside that nugget of knowledge, I signed up for the Indoor Tri a week prior to the event. It was a short race that I had completed before. How hard could it be?

After coming out strong on my first two laps in the pool I came to a few conclusions: I had started out entirely too fast, was now quickly fading, and I needed much more conditioning to be prepared for this race. Next, I began to wonder if your heart could actually beat entirely out of your chest. Or if the pounding in my ears was actually audible to those on the pool deck. Or if they had to pull me out of the pool, would they do it with the traditional floatation ring or would a lifeguard actually blow the whistle, jump in, and pull me to the side?

Then the debate started in my mind. I had finished every race I had ever entered, including the Baltimore marathon. I had never quit. I had YMCA colleagues and my friend whom I convinced to register in the race with me - I couldn't bail out on them this early. But, the lightheaded whirl in my head from not getting enough oxygen between my doggy-paddle strokes was convincing me to throw in the towel. I didn't even know what lap I was on anymore. I was just trying not to pass out. As the conversation in my mind raged on, I committed to one more lap.

I often thought of perseverance in terms of the outcome. If one pushes through the current situation, a better result would follow. Perseverance, I thought, was the bridge between lacing up your hiking boots and enjoying the amazing view from the peak. I only thought of perseverance as the sometimes treacherous road that ultimately led to a finer destination.

I grasped the edge of the pool, gasping for air, and thinking of the ramifications of just ending this poorly planned decision. I could hear those of the pool deck encouraging me to keep going. I committed to one more pool length, at least to get me back to the starting point.

Nelson Mandela said, "It always seems impossible until it's done." Our goals often seem so distant, that the minutia of the moment make them seem unachievable. We feel like we'll never arrive, until we get there. Losing the fast food 15 lbs, putting away the smokes, or saying no to good things to allow for more time with your family are all admirable goals that life often pushes to the side.

I looked up at the volunteer in my lane who put down the lap counter board as if I was finished. Even now, I'm not certain whether this was out of completion or mercy. In any case, I was finished with the swim portion of the race and I was off to begin the bike portion. As I jumped on the spin bike, my legs felt like I was pedaling through concrete. I told myself I'd pedal strong for one more mile.

"Perseverance is not a long race, it is many short races one after the other," the American Catholic priest and writer, Walter Elliott once said. Or, in the words of another great American philosopher, Rocky Balboa, "One more round." It's about simply taking that next step. Just one more.

I completed the bike portion, and ended the event with the 5K run. I finished the race 12th out of 18 participants (one person was a no show, but I'm sticking with 18). But, as with every other race that I've participated in, I learned something about myself along the way. I sensed new strengths, other weaknesses, but nevertheless I learned some truths that only seem to show up when I can't fathom going any further.

And that's what perseverance is all about. Not so much a ladder taking up to the top. Instead, maybe it's the shaping of our character, our lives, and our motivations that occurs in the heat of the race. The book of James says to consider it pure joy when we face trials because, "you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance." The excursion that you travel en route to your goal is critically important. It's the path that sharpens us, even defines us.

Be encouraged in your travels. Go one more day without chewing tobacco. Have one more meal without the fried side dish. Spend one more moment reflecting on what matters most in life. Find one more opportunity to symbolically show your family how important they are to you. Go one more mile on the treadmill. We'll know that we've arrived after just one more...