Training is a marathon, not a sprint. Education is a marathon, not a sprint. Painting is a marathon, not a sprint. Writing is a marathon not a sprint.
Is anything a sprint?
With the possible exception of actual sprinting, maybe not. Maybe every endeavor is a marathon.
Even sprinting is a marathon, not a sprint. Because 100-meter runners have to stay focused, come back to the track week in week out. Sprinters have to avoid injury, focus on nutrition, stay healthy. Sprinters may be born not made. But after a sprinter is born, they train like crazy--if they want to get any better, be any good. Show me a champion sprinter and I'll show you someone born with preternatural ability who came to the track every day for years.
One of my best friends paints almost every day. I write almost every day. It occurred to us over lunch recently that if there are any differences between painting and writing, we could not articulate them. Whether my friend’s paintings are ever shown at the Metropolitan Museum of Art or anyone other than you ever reads these essays, there is something to be said for the process of creating—oil on canvas, words on a page, shoes on a track.
Which is one of the many reasons I am so underwhelmed with results, focusing instead on how your children feel about their performance.
Running a marathon seems like a big deal but compared to training to run a marathon the actual running on race day ain’t nuthin’. Running the marathon is like painting the top square inch of the Eiffel Tower and claiming credit for the design, implementation, and construction of the entire edifice.* Because running the marathon involves hundreds (or thousands or tens of thousands) of fellow enthusiasts. Which is awesome! Big city marathons have rock bands every few miles and supporters lining the streets, bellowing encouragement. Even smaller events have the occasional musician and local folks offering oranges, drinks, and support. The finish line at the majors involves young people handing out water, medals, and cookies. Smaller venues have home-made bread, pastries, and smiles. Race day is amazing! Even standing around shivering at oh dark hundred surrounded by several thousand of your best friends is something to talk about for generations.
Whereas training you got nada. Your best 20-mile training run involves your same old friends telling the same old stories on the same old course you ran the week before and the week before that. Training is about fulfilling that promise to yourself (believe me, nobody else cares) to run 12 miles or 14 miles or 18 miles. At the end of the training run, you hobble to your car. No cheering throngs. No medal. No results to look up on the Internet.
When you finish the Boston Marathon, you get to say, "I RAN THE BOSTON MARATHON!" When you finish a four-hour training run, you get to say, "I should probably pick us up something for lunch before I head home to mow the lawn."
Parenting is the same. Sure, there is something to be said for watching your kids be admitted to or being graduated from college or graduate school. There is the actual event of the recital or the performance. But sitting with your kid for 36 consecutive hours as they recover from surgery or listening to them as they try to process their first heart break—that’s where the magic happens. There are no awards for those dreary 20-mile training runs in the heat or the rain or when you’d rather be doing anything else. Nor will anyone likely ever know about the time you passed on the promotion or the new job because you knew it would mean less time driving your kid to play practice.
Because parenting is a marathon not a sprint.
* I am indebted to Mark Twain for this brilliant metaphor.