I’ve been thinking a lot lately about endurance. What it means, how to get it, when you know you have it. Perhaps, also, when you know you don’t.
The definition is simple: “the power of enduring an unpleasant or difficult process or situation without giving way. See also; forbearance, tolerance, sufference and patience.”
Though the definition is something easy to comprehend, being in the center of it can sort of feel like walking out into the middle of a frozen lake, hearing the ice crack, and knowing you are equal distance from the shore you came from as well as the shore you are going to. That suspension of almighty fear, grit and quick thinking; for me lately, that is endurance.
I ran a 5k this past May. I’ve been running one for 6 or 7 years now, but this one was a little different. I didn’t train for it the way I usually do. Normally I try to increase my speed slowly, bring my heart and lung capacity up to snuff and start pushing at those outer boundaries of my time. I’m never trying to do anything crazy, just break 30 minutes but it is an accomplishment I’ve never achieved and always wanted to.
This year I had a lot going on in my life and that left little time for me to zero in on cutting time, so I decided I would make a deal with myself; forget doing it in under 30. Just run the whole time. Even if you have to slow down, even if it seems like a jog, even if every single person passes you; just run without stopping.
Easy as that, right?
About 5 minutes in I wanted to stop. 10 minutes in, I couldn’t breathe. 15 minutes in I thought to myself
“Maybe just a minute of walking to catch my breath??”
“No!” I responded internally “You said you were going to run this thing. You made a promise to yourself. Do not give up! You have been through so much more painful moments this year than this. This??! This is nothing. This is just physical pain manifesting as fear. This is just fear. Just. Keep. Running.”
So I did.
And at the end I felt I had achieved a goal, but it wasn’t initially the one I wanted to achieve. Looking down I saw I had been bleeding. My right tennis shoe was no longer turquoise and white, but a patch of red saturated through. A battle scar, proof that I was different. Not better or worse, but not the same.
Endurance. I kept going.
I spent every work week from January to April getting up at 6:30am in the morning to work out, journal and make it to work on time. I walked through snow, rain, wind and tears to go to a new job, a job I really liked, a job I really needed. At home, my personal life was on fire and charred, bits of it sticking to my scarf and hair like ash. The smell of smoke all around me. At work, I was the new girl just trying to get ahold of the reigns, trying to feign my fear and put on a good face. There were other things too. The near constant ache of lost love, the primal sweat of New York City beating my ass, the swollen eyes I would try and sooth with spoons in the freezer before I left the apartment, groceries, bills, rent, life choices, what-next-questions, moving, packing 3 bags for auditions after work, re-fueling subway cards, trying to find beauty in the day somewhere. It was a lot. But it was no more than any New Yorker faces day to day. Except maybe a few scary details that were all coming down on me at one time. Like seeing a back-up on the highway in the distance, all tail lights ruby and stationary. I was sitting in the traffic jam and didn’t know what else to do except to just keep going. You certainly can’t abandon the car in the middle of a highway. So you stay in it, until you can find a better solution, preferably to never take that way again if you can help it.
So I just kept going. In moments when I wanted to stay home. In moments where I cried on my way to work, from work, to and from auditions, on the phone with my parents or my friends, staring at my ex-boyfriend while we fought about something that no longer mattered, gritting my teeth in the line at Trader Joes, writing checks angrily to pay for things, watching my money fly out the window. I did it all. Everyone does it all. Always, in all ways we are already doing it.
Through the fatigue and the fear and the dread and the death and the winter; we persevere and on the other side we say: “Ok. Not what I had in mind. Grateful for what I learned, I hope I learned enough to never do that again, I hope I am better equipped next time around.”
And sometimes we are, but most of the time we aren’t and we curse the sky, fists raised:
“Why am I back on 95 in this bumper to bumper traffic at 5:00pm on a week day! I know it’s going to be terrible, why didn’t I learn from last week!!”
Well, things take time. And each time you endure with patience and forbearance you burn a little of the un-important off and chisel yourself into something a little meaner, but certainly more true.
I think being a New Yorker, for any amount of time, will teach you that. You have to put up with so much more stimulus and heartache and beauty and constant movement. You need to be willing to keep going forward and then if it is the wrong way, turn around. Turn around and be different. Turn around and try something else without feeling embarrassed. Make goals, break them, ruin your love-life, change your career, take the stars out of your eyes and place them back where they belong. Keep your feet on the ground. Keep your feet on the ground and moving. And step by step, block by block, even if the run turns into a jog; even if every single person passes you. You keep going.
And at the end, you will no longer be the same. Not better, not worse. But different.