Sunday, February 15, 2009
Every time I look up at the corner of our dining room ceiling, I feel a tweak of sheepishness. Two years ago, I began to replace our cruddy old drop ceiling with a less-cruddy new drop ceiling that has a pressed tin-tile design. I had some problems with the adhesive and ended up re-doing large chunks of the ceiling, and now it stands 98% complete. The 2% incomplete section is the corner my eyes travel to every time I walk in the room.
It is undone because the ceiling is not flat in this corner—it slopes upward, leaving an irregular and problematic surface upon which to glue new tiles. I am not dumb, but I am also not very handy around the house, so I have simply walked away from the project without figuring out a way to make a new flat ceiling appear below an old, not-flat ceiling. The job is undone.
I start with this illustration to make a point: I have a problem with follow through. I get near 80% done with any major job or commitment and I start to lose interest. It happened in the Peace Corps, it happens when I tackle a major chore like cleaning out the basement or getting the yard ready for winter, and it sometimes happens in my relationships with people. I pull away before they have actually left my life. I noticed and put words to this habit of mine back in the fall, when I decided I needed to do something about it.
For me the first step to doing something about anything is simply noticing it. I am not a noticer and I am certainly not very good at identifying my feelings. Heck, I used to be able to go days without even realizing I was having emotions. So now I am working at noticing when I have settled into my pattern of pulling out and walking away. Along with simply noticing when it is happening, I am developing strategies for re-engaging with whatever is the matter at hand. And I am also working to simply build my stamina for tough, unpleasant tasks.
One task I decided to take on was running the Half at the Hamptons LOCO Half Marathon this weekend in Hampton Beach, New Hampshire. I decided back in November that I would train through the winter and try for a personal best half marathon time at the Hampton race. I knew that in order for me to actually set a new personal record, I would need to train consistently and hard through the winter. I also knew this was exactly the kind of commitment I would be likely to flake out on and find some reason to give up just weeks before the race.
I am back from the race and I can tell you right off the bat, I did not flake out and give up on the training a few weeks ago. I stuck with it through some tough weather, inconvenient schedules, and winter-induced inertia and managed to train hard right up through Friday of this week. No, I did not give up on the training at all.
But I DID almost give up on my goal during the race.
It was a beautifully sunny, cold, clear morning on the beach today and around 900 runners lined up for the 11:00 a.m. start. I could see in the pack up ahead the pacesetters for those who wished to run a certain time in today’s race. I know myself and I knew that I could not start up with the 8:00-minute mile pacers, though my eventual goal was to finish with them. I need to start races slowly and then speed up through the easier miles later in a race or else I simply crash and finish disappointed.
There was a good crowd of runners today—very friendly and supportive and the first few miles were good. I got to mile-marker four and found myself running with a group of about ten runners who were all following the 8:00 minute pacers, (Lisa and Cliff). I settled in just behind Cliff and locked onto the yellow bib pinned to his back. I was not feeling like I had a lot in me today, but I made up my mind that I was going to simply dog Cliff the entire way, and then sprint ahead in the last mile and see if I could finish in under an hour and 45 minutes.
To make a long story a little shorter, I found it very hard to keep up with Cliff and Lisa. I struggled with the temptation to drop back and then try to catch up later in the race. In fact, I had almost convinced myself that this would be the best course to take when I remembered that damned ceiling and its incomplete corner. I caught myself doing that thing I do where I back away from something I have committed to without even putting up a real fight.
So I dug in and just gritted my teeth and matched Cliff step for step. At mile eleven I pulled up alongside Lisa and asked her about the etiquette of using the services of pacers and then taking off ahead of them at the end in an effort to get a better time. She laughed and said, “That is what we are here for—take off and see what you can do.”
So when I got to mile twelve I thanked Lisa and Cliff and turned up my speed a bit. The final mile was along Ocean Blvd. in Hampton and the wind picked up in this beachfront stretch. I was hurting—my calves were tight and getting tighter with each step, my lungs were burning, and my head was screaming at me to slow down and coast in, knowing I would beat my goal of 8:00 per mile.
But my heart was saying NO NO NO with each pound. It wanted me to stick to my goal and work it until the last step across the finish line. So we held a quick committee meeting and my heart overruled my calves, lungs, and head and I gave everything I had all the way to the finish line.
In that last mile I thought about how I used to go to yoga classes a lot and loved them, but could never make myself do yoga at home. I needed to simply get to the studio and once I did, I would follow any instructions the teachers gave and work really hard at it. I also thought about the growth I am experiencing lately in my personal life and in my relationship with Erica. It is happening because Erica is out in the world learning important lessons and bringing them home to me and I am simply applying what she has learned. In both cases, someone else is doing the work and I am merely following along.
The same was true of the race today—until mile marker 12. Cliff and Lisa were doing the real work and I was simply following along. It wasn’t easy, but it wasn’t anything to be proud of either. But then, when I stepped out and around Cliff and Lisa and fought off my own efforts at sabotage, that was when I really learned something about follow through.
I finished with not a drop left in the tank. The clock said 1:42:56 when I ran over the finish line. That works out to be seven minutes and fifty-two seconds per mile. It was faster than I had hoped possible and the only reason I did it is because I didn’t listen to most of myself.
You know what—I have tomorrow off and I think I just might try to finish that stupid ceiling.