Marathons, Minimalism, Metaphors, and Alliteration

Last year, on the passenger train, my body was squashed in among fit and fetid figures. I, by contrast, smelled of lavender soap and my body held a nice protective layer of natural insulation commonly referred to as fat. I was struggling to keep my leg away from the one next to me; slick with sweat and jittery at 6 am. My nervous habit of being early had awarded me one of the passenger cars populated by marathon pacers and runner evangelists.

“This is my thirty-fifth marathon,” the man in the red shorts said through a smile that exposed the sinews near his ears and above his jaw. “Is this your first marathon?”

“Oh, it’s your thirty fifth? That’s wonderful!” A woman chortled. “My thirty fifth was in Berlin.”

“How did you like Berlin?” Another added. “I wasn’t as impressed with that event but I did find Amsterdam to be well organized.”

It was a volley of one-ups and faltering segues. I was amused by the parallel monologues connected only by numbers and city names.

“Is this your first?” Someone asked me.

“My seventh,” I said. “It’s my second time at this event.”

“I’ve done this one every year for the past ten years…”

And we were off again.

Redefining Running Goals

One would think that running seven marathons would have seemed impressive to most people. Having been in this conversation more than a handful of times, I knew when to bow out and I knew not to be offended. It had occurred to me, only recently and too late to back out of the race, that I didn’t want to be a part of conversations like this and I was angry that I couldn’t muster enough of an excuse (to myself) to get out of running altogether. I had two valid excuses: I was on the second day of my period (always the worst day) and it was 40 degrees out. Surely I would pull something. At least, I hoped I would.

There was no way I was going to match the passion I displayed when I first took on a 26.2 mile race. It was a singular goal which made other goals fall into background noise. The training took up so much time that I didn’t have much room for much else aside from work and sleep with how serious I was taking myself.

This round, I still made it through the training but I still hadn’t defined what place running had in my life after having kids. I didn’t want to form this portion of my life around running and getting better times. I wanted running to be something to help me do other things in important in my life.

Here I Was, A Dedicated Runner

Funny How Passion Dwindles

Even though I was stuck in a mojo rut with my running, this hadn’t been the case eight years ago when I would run thirteen miles before putting in all into an overly aggressive floor hockey league game #humblebrag1. Or when I put in eight hours on a very technical trail marathon famous for bloodying any and all participants who were silly enough to enter #humblebrag2.

I was a beast then and if you want to go back in time with me, you can check out my first run at a blog at MobileMarathonCubicle. But here, two kids and a career switch later, sitting on a train with overflowing toilets and exercise addicts, my mojo was lost among people who had run 50 marathons, those who were using this as a training run before an ultramarathon, and others who were running for The Red Cross or in memory of someone who died.

These people had drive, or at least a conviction in the power of habit.

All I had an overwhelming fear of the unfinished task and that was going to help me cross the finish line.

Redefining Minimalism Goals

Whenever I meet another minimalist, I feel that same camaraderie as I used to feel when I met another marathoner. We cheer each other on, we talk about reaching small goals. I sincerely hope minimalism doesn’t become a competition, a zero-sum game where you aren’t a minimalist until you have the least amount of things and are living in a shack in the woods with no windows…and then a lean-to because you feel the need to do better than the guy with the walls.

Why Passion Sucks as a Motivator

Passion is a firecracker. I’ll spare you the double entendre and only say that it’s quick, it gets people’s attention, and it’s sad when the show’s all over. I’ve had passionate, firecracker moments in my life and I carry the guilt for every one of those endeavors. I’ve declared myself a science major at least twice, I’ve started creative companies that stopped just after they got people’s hopes up, and I’ve been engaged about three times (the third time was the charm).

My passion has taught me about failure and blind luck far more often than it has taught me about success.

What to Reach for Instead

But the ability to be steadfast has led me down a much more beautiful road. While I was switching science majors, I was still in my English major; while I went after those creative publishing endeavors, I kept my job as a TA and as a high school teacher; while I went through the dissolution of those two failing relationships, I kept doing the things that felt routine like exercise with running, soccer, and dance as well as reading and spending time with family and friends.

Passion has its place and I would encourage people not to settle for anything you feel lukewarm on. Think of this as permission to ignore a persnickety relative who orates such drivel as “A job’s a job,” “You don’t need all that ____, what you really need is a ___,” or the less subtle “You should lower your standards. You’re getting up in years. It’s time to settle down.” Those people aren’t being helpful, they have control issues.

Let Your Passion Mold Into Purpose

I can think of a million cliches for what I want to convey next: slow and steady wins the race, hang in there, no pain no gain–and so on and so forth. Instead, I find a song by Third Eye Blind more apt as I keep pace with the rhythm of “I want something else, to get me through this, semi-charmed kind of life…”

Like my husband…with a car…and a soda…perhaps a cookie.

The words to the song parade through my head as my eyes scan the onlookers who are cheering on their relatives, their friends, and loved ones. I don’t see my husband. I had promised myself after passing mile six that as soon as I saw the whites of his eyes I would allow myself to drop out of this hateful event.

At miles 23, after a litany of internal cursing and re-prioritizing of life goals, I finally caught sight of him and with only 3.2 miles to go…I may as well finish. Forget the medal, I hear there’s free beer at the end.

Marathon Training as a Metaphor for Minimalism

I’ve been taking a course by Joshua Becker, one of the top-reputed minimalists in the blogosphere, and if you’ve ever taken a course in something you know very well, you’ll understand what I have to say next.

I am re-invigorated.

You see, when you get back to level one and look earnestly at the introductory lessons even after having already climbed to level eight or ten, you see those primary steps in a new light.

I am currently in week three and after a few assignments on finding your why and your what (why do you want a life with less and what do you want more of?), Joshua Becker explained to us how he became a minimalist and what exactly was going through his mind as he started his process.

What he described in “Start Easy” was this: the first thing he went through was his car. He cleared out the McDonald’s toys, the CDs, the sunglasses, the little bits of garbage. Joshua Becker took out the things that were not important to the task of driving his car. He started small and to him it felt “better.” So, he continued on through other parts of the house slowly. What needed to be there and what didn’t? He touched each physical item and made a decision about each one. Again, he did this slowly and knew it couldn’t be accomplished in a single day.

He compared it to training for a marathon.

I won’t say much more about Joshua Becker’s beginner UnCluttered course other than I think it’s more than worth the $89 for twelve weeks that will set you free of all your clutter.

In Closing

Along with an alliterative quality in the comparison, marathon training is like downsizing or tidying up. When people think of running a marathon, without prior experience of what it is like to train for one, they may think of the race as an all-or-nothing affair. You run it all, from the beginning to end and you train hard all the way up until race day. Similarly, people think of minimalism the same way. There is one way it should look and if you don’t end up in either a tiny house or a white modernist box, you must not be a minimalist.

Training for a marathon, admittedly, is hard but I wouldn’t say that most people go hard all the way through training. It’s a rare human who could keep up that kind of intensity. Take the same approach to minimalism. Take one item at a time, as one takes one step at a time. Then move on to one mile or one section of a room.

You train mile by mile, week by week, and month by month. You might not even run all of it. The goal, for your first literal run at marathoning, is to finish. After that, if you feel the need arise, you can work to improve on your results.

Minimalism shares this trend. You go space by space, week by week, month by month with the goal of getting to “an end.” Then, if the need arises, you can work to improve on your results.

Even if you are plodding, it’s still forward momentum.

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