It’s not uncommon for people to look at me like I’m a bit unstable when I tell them I’m running another marathon. It’s quite likely I am a bit unstable but probably for other reasons. It has been tiring to say the least trying to manage all the training for this weekend’s marathon and the everyday demands of family, home, and work. Obviously from my lack of posting here you can see that available time is almost nonexistent. So why do another marathon?
A couple of days from now, we’ll observe our fourth Diagnosis Day, the day on which we received our J-Man’s autism diagnosis. This has, not surprisingly, been a day filled with a variety of emotions over the years.
And not coincidentally, this Sunday is my second marathon. Why? My reflections in “Diagnosis Day and a Tale of Two Marathons” last year still sum it up nicely. These are some of the words I wrote on Diagnosis Day last year, the day before my first marathon.
So tomorrow I will celebrate everything I’ve learned from my kids and from my life. I will proclaim that even with all these challenges we face and all the effort they require, I am stronger than ever for it. I have come back from a difficult place in my life. When some people assume that parents of special needs children are doomed to an existence of unending struggle and despair, maybe now I can show them it is possible to be that parent and do some pretty kick-ass stuff. And tomorrow I’ll think a lot about my grandmother because I think that’s the kind of attitude she would appreciate and want me to follow in life.
Four or five hours after this weekend’s marathon begins, it will end. The marathon of our lives will continue on. But now I know how to run marathons. I know how to train for them. I know how to get up off the ground on the most difficult days and keep putting one step in front of another until my feet are solid under me again. And I know all this and more because of these courageous, adventurous, determined little boys who taught me to believe that what seems impossible never is.
But why do it again? Didn’t I prove my point by doing it once? I’ve had plenty of hours on the open road these past months to ponder that question. And this is the best conclusion I’ve come up with.
Perhaps one of the best lessons we can teach ourselves as parents is to pursue and value whatever consistency we can muster over the long haul. It’s not ever going to be enough for us to do something once. We have to wake up every day and be as ready as we can be for the challenges that lie before us. There is never going to be any one-and-done for us. This has turned into my way of training for real life more than any marathon.
At its most basic level, I simply love to run and am enjoying its many health benefits. It’s made me a better and healthier parent. Beyond that, running a marathon has become in no small part an act of defiance, that I won’t let the challenges that often pile up around us to keep me down. I’ve learned that I can overcome a great challenge, then do it again, and keep on doing it as often as I choose to if I am determined enough.
As wonderful as I make it sound, there’s really nothing glamourous or mystical about doing it, though. I show up and do my training. I log my miles in the same way that I try to show up and do my work, attend to the needs of my family, and meet the various other responsibilities in my life. I don’t necessarily do any of this well – far, far, far from it – but I do try my best, and most of all, I show up. I truly think that showing up is 80% of just about everything.
Not surprisingly, running a marathon is hard. It’s the hardest physical thing I’ve ever done. I started hallucinating in the final miles last year. I couldn’t feel my feet toward the end. I turned into a brain with legs running on instinct. It’s reminded me of a lot of days here at home trying to figure out what we’re doing and find a way to overcome the mounting challenges we face. Many days it’s so hard you just go on instinct.
But when I crossed that finish line last year, my life changed forever.
To paraphrase the marathon saying: At mile 23, I thought I was going to die. At mile 26.2, I discovered that I was too tough to kill.
I discovered that I could do it. That discovery has meant more to me than I can express. I finished in the slowest 20% of runners that day, and it didn’t matter. When I thought about that, an affirmation came to mind.
I am not fast, but I can endure.
That has come to mean a lot to me as an autism parent. I’m not Super Dad, but that isn’t the point. I do my best each day – which some days amounts to little more than breathing and getting my pants on – and I keep moving forward with every ounce of strength I have. When we put one foot in front of the other, we can and will get there.
We are all marathoners, and we can do it.