Life is a marathon, not a sprint. Slow and steady wins the race. Tortoise trumps hare.
I know that’s what people say, but recently I’ve been questioning this notion.
Because I’m a writer, all of my life becomes a metaphor, and none is more true, for me, than with health and fitness. A friend and I were discussing it the other day; just as with a workout, you won’t see any improvement until you experience some pain, so in a relationship you can’t possibly expect to grow if you don’t go through hard times together. No pain, no gain. Such is life.
But that one is easy.
Here’s my issue with the marathon metaphor: I had been training most of the spring and summer in order to race in the Warrior Dash, which is an extreme obstacle course (as is on trend, with races like Tough Mudder, only without the insane electric shock, because, well…electric shock??? Thanks, I’m good). I’m not a natural born runner–I have bad knees from back in my gymnastics days, so I had to be careful about slowly building up my endurance.
When I finally got my footing, I was doing a steady run on the treadmill, at least 3.5 miles 4-5 days a week. I thought I should be in the best shape of my life. But for some reason, I wasn’t.
Nothing made this more clear to me than when I got invited out to a CrossFit class at the Academy of Lions in Toronto, in order to write an article on it for the magazine (coming this fall). I describe it as basically conditioning on crack. In a good way.
The class is divided into three parts: a warm-up, where they asess your skill level, movement and take note of any areas of difficulty or injury; then they do skill building (we did pull-ups); lastly, is some type of cardio, made up of a few different stations. Ours were modified pull-ups on rings, squat-lifts with a kettle bell, medicine ball throws and jump-squats to an elevated surface. Only one minute at each station, pushing as hard as possible (so, four minutes in total), then one minute to rest. Repeat.
After the third run-through, I was fairly certain that my heart had run away with my lungs, leaving only a goodbye note that read, “Screw you, I can’t do this!” It was only 12 minutes of physical activity and I was left in a huff. My whole body was shaking, and my muscles had that weird heavy feeling that you just know is going to mean you can’t move the next day.
On the other hand, I have never felt so powerful. I had used my entire body, every inch of my strength and finished the class strong. It was challenging. But a marathon it was not.
When I sat down with the founder afterward, Dahni Oks, I asked him about my plateau. He explained to me about the body becoming too efficient at movement that it knows too well. It gets lazy, and you don’t see any growth. He suggested tabata training, where you would run full out for 20 seconds, then rest for 10, repeating this four times. So, again, a very short amount of time–technically only a minute and 20 seconds of rigorous activity. But somehow enough to keep your body guessing.
It got me thinking. Maybe life isn’t the marathon we think it is. Maybe I’ve been doing it all wrong. Maybe it’s just meant to be a series of crazy, intense, completely focused moments, broken up by times of rest.
Because I work primarily from home and there’s no one to yell at me about sitting at my desk between the standard 9 to 5, I’ve been able to put this to the test. A few hours of intense and focused work, followed by a short amount of downtime. It’s a model that is more up and down than steady, but so far, it has really worked. My productivity is up, and lately I’ve been feeling less stressed, even though there is still plenty to stress about–especially since I got in a segway accident on a press trip (they took us on a obstacle course), which resulted in a epic crash on my part, where I busted my knee a mere two days before the Warrior Dash and I had to drop out because I suddenly had two kneecaps on one leg. And for my next trick…
Perhaps it was just life’s way of saying, “Take your 10 second break, already.”