I ran my first marathon recently, and crossed the finish line with a 2:40 marathon debut, qualifying for the Boston Marathon. Placing 3rd in my first marathon, I could not have done so without the support of my friends who journeyed with me to Savannah.
The words that crossed my mind and kept me going through 26.2 miles were "no surge," a mantra that I tell myself to stop any sudden or erratic surges or changes in pace while running. The story behind why I started saying "no surge" to myself dates back to my junior year of high school, the week before our county championships cross country race.
In a race the previous week, I ran my worst race of the season. Almost 20 people passed me in the last minute of the race as I faded. Like many high school runners, I didn't take bad races well, and would often sulk and not talk to anyone for an entire day to wallow in my failure. I let myself down. I let my team down.
However, my high school coach, Gregg Cantwell, did not let me do that. He went up to me after my race and told me that he noticed I made 6 or 7 sudden surges and sprints in the middle of a race, and that drained me of energy I needed to finish the strong and ultimately detrimentally affected my time and composure. Equally nerve-racking was that the next week was our county championship race, and my failure in this race would be on my mind come time for counties.
The gist of what Cantwell was telling me was this: you can't win a long race in 5 seconds of sprinting. Stay steady and composed, and don't try too hard. Next week, don't surge, he told me, and I would be fine.
The next week, I stepped up to the line with the mantra "no surge" ringing throughout my head. When people went off the line sprinting, I ran my own race. "No surge," I told myself. When I was slower than I usually was at the early checkmarks of the race "no surge" were the words I told myself. When I ran up the steepest hill of what is widely considered the most difficult cross country course in New York, "no surge" were the words I told myself. I let the race come to me naturally, instead of unnaturally trying to seize it.
I didn't know this at the time, but even though it seemed like I wasn't running that hard, I was running faster than I ever was. I would finish with the fastest finishing kick I ever had, and would finish as the top man on my team and lead us in our county championship race. It didn't even seem like I was racing hard, but instead it seemed like I was just running.
The mantra doesn't apply to just running, though. Lately, I've found that it also applies to life.
My life often seems runs in paradoxes. The less hard I study on an exam, the better I do. The less effort I put into work, the more I get done. The message to myself should be clear at this point: chill out and stop trying so damn hard, and you'll be rewarded for doing so. When I do give myself the chance and the wisdom to slow down, I start doing things for the right reasons. I start volunteering to help people instead of seeking recognition and credit to put on my resume. I become kinder to the people around me because I want to take time to listen to them, not because I want a favor. I stop being "busy," and I get more done. I start praying not because I want God to do something for me, but instead to thank God for the people in my life.
That isn't to say that you shouldn't push yourself outside of your comfort zone. Dean Karnazes once said that "struggling and suffering are the essence of a life worth living. If you're not pushing yourself beyond the comfort zone...you're choosing a numb existence." But super type-A people like myself often lack balance, try to do too much at once, and burn out in the process. Slowing down and taking life at a sustainable pace saves me. It doesn't mean I do everything slowly, but instead, I do things slower when they're meant to be done slowly, and I do things fast when they're meant to be done quickly.
There has been a lot going on in my life, and what people close to me have expressed is that you can't control your circumstances in life, and you can't even control your past circumstances. But you can wake up every day with the attitude of doing your best to react to those circumstances and make the best of them. When we're ready, we can grow from them. As Romans 5 says, "we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, endurance produces character, and character produces hope." My unfortunate circumstances have, at times, seemed overwhelming and like the end of the world, but learning to slow down and living life with the mantra of 'no surge" allows me to press forward with peace.
I still think I made mistakes in my first marathon. At mile 18, feeling like I was absolutely unstoppable, I tried to make a sudden and drastic move to win my first marathon in dramatic fashion. One mile later, my body started breaking down and it took the same effort to run significantly slower, and that move was a big factor why. Predictably, it was in that mile when I started abandoning the mantra.
Naturally, I walk through life erratic and unpredictable, feeling like I have to finish everything at once. Although the outcomes in my life are still unpredictable, "no surge" allows me to proceed with steadiness, make less mistakes, and feel natural about it.
I have a peace now that I didn't have before I started applying it to my life, just like I had a peace in running that I didn't have before I started using mantra. It's what works for me, especially at times when I'm prone to anxious or racing thoughts. I can't control what life or what God throws at me; I never can. But I can control the poise with which I can react. "No surge," i say to myself as I write this article. I say those words again as I walk through a point of my life of extremely tumultuous uncertainty.