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This Is A Marathon, Not A Sprint

Author: Kathleen Nelson-Simley Posted: Friday - May 22, 2020

You have likely heard this phrase before as you have begun any number of ambitious tasks: “This is a marathon, not a sprint.”

I’ve never run a marathon before (a 5K is my limit), but I have friends who have. I listen to them talk about what they endured while training for a marathon. I hear stories about what it is like to actually run 26.2 miles. The common theme I hear in all their stories is…marathons are hard. Really hard.

The race is a mental rollercoaster. You can feel unstoppable for miles, and then, out of the blue, your legs stop working. You can feel so many highs and lows over a four+ hour time period. At points you are cruising, passing people and smiling, and at other times, you are ready to pull yourself out of the race altogether.

Even though you are exhilarated and filled with pride (and relief!) for crossing the finish line, in the back of your mind, you’re already evaluating what you could have done differently. You think about all of the details you neglected in your training and the mistakes you made in your race.

Whether you realize it or not, you are running in a marathon right now. A pandemic marathon. Unfortunately, you didn’t have the opportunity to adequately train for it and your race has no set finish line. Pacing yourself and reserving all the energy you will need - physically, emotionally and mentally - to finish the race will be important in the days, weeks and months ahead.

There Will Be Days

Here are some expert tips and ideas to help you stay in the marathon and cross the finish line, not just as a finisher, but also a medalist!

Make time for yourself. Much of the personal time you had as part of your daily routine - commutes, time alone at home or social time with friends - isn’t available right now, especially if you have kids at home. Be intentional about creating space to recharge and decompress. Maybe it’s taking a shower or bath, walking around the block alone (or with your dog), designating time to read or simply zoning out after the kids have gone to bed.

Create a plan. Create a plan for the day or week that you’re in. Ask yourself, what can I accomplish this week? What are some things I can do that would bring me enjoyment? What do I need to care for myself? For my family? Establishing short-term, attainable goals gives you focus and clarity. It gives you something to anticipate and look forward to. It helps you see what is possible and reminds you there are things you can control.

Make healthy choices. The added stress and lack of structure we are all experiencing right now can make it easy to slip into habits that feel good in the moment, but detrimental in the long term. Make sure you are eating properly, getting enough sleep and creating a routine that includes physical activity. This doesn’t mean pressuring yourself to get into tip-top shape, not eating ice cream or binging your favorite shows. It does mean being thoughtful and intentional about how you are treating yourself and your body.

Set boundaries. With 24-hour news channels and social media outlets you have so many sources of information throughout the day that it becomes easy to stay in an activated fight or flight response. This can be exhausting. Set aside times to check news and updates. Set up a buffer before bedtime to ensure healthy sleep. If you have friends or family who only want to talk about the pandemic or anything and everything negative right now, practice some emotional distancing. You can always reconnect when things calm down and the news becomes more positive and optimistic.

Reconnect with things you enjoy. Think proactively of things you can do with your time at home. Get back in touch with hobbies or activities you enjoy, but rarely have time for. Maybe there’s a new skill you would like to learn. What is one thing you have been wanting to do, but could never find time for because you were rushing between work, home, kid’s activities and other obligations? Try it. Do it. Enjoy it.

Be realistic and kind to yourself. Perfectionism and the coronavirus don’t mix. Avoid burnout by setting realistic expectations and giving yourself grace if you can’t meet them. Practice forgiveness and self-compassion. Remind yourself that these are unprecedented times and you won’t have all the answers. There’s no playbook for this. Accept that no one is perfect and you are trying your best. Cut yourself some slack.

When you practice self-care, you are filling your emotional, social and physical tank putting you in a better position to offer comfort and care to others when they need it most. Our children and family members, colleagues, friends or students may need us to help them get to the finish line in their own marathon race. Running the race beside others or stepping out of your own race and being on the sidelines to cheer others on might be what you need to do.

A marathon isn’t easy. Roadblocks are inevitable. Some things are out of your control. But, as any marathon runner would advise, it’s better to have a plan and stick to it, than to have no plan at all. Patience, diligence and pushing through the challenges WILL get you to the finish line and the reward at the end will be more than just a medal around your neck.