We had been running for over an hour and a half, and we were tired. A friend and I had trained for months, running several times a week and nursing injuries along the way to prepare for this half-marathon. Now we were in the home stretch, the finish line within reach. Entering the last aid station, I grabbed a paper cup and gratefully swallowed a drink of cold water, relieved for a reason to walk a few steps before we picked up our pace again.
My friend glanced down at her phone where we were tracking our mileage and we realized we were closer than we’d thought–only one more mile to go! Fueled by a new wave of adrenaline, we started running faster, cheering on other runners and calling out, “Keep it up! You’re almost there!” as we passed. We ignored their confused faces and pushed harder, knowing the end was in sight. Our legs were burning and our breathing heavy as we approached the next mile marker, baffled by what it said: we had just completed mile twelve.
We looked at each other in confused disbelief, trying not to cry as we slowed way down. We still had another mile to go. And we were tanked.
Other runners started passing us by; we stopped talking completely, trying to conserve our breath. With every scrap of grit we could muster, we forced our lead weights of legs to keep moving. We were running on fumes. A stabbing pain in my right side made breathing excruciating; her calf cramped with each step. Exhausted and depleted, we finally stumbled across the finish line, barely keeping ourselves from collapsing on the ground.
Somehow, despite having nothing left, we made it to the end.
Life this fall feels a bit like running a race where the finish line keeps moving.
My kids just started virtual school and it’s unsurfaced a fresh layer of grief over all we’ve lost this year. They’re aching to see friends, missing their teachers, longing for the excitement and newness that normally comes in September. I’m grieving their losses and my own: The peaceful stillness at home after walking them to school. The joy of reconnecting at the end of the day and hearing all they experienced while we were apart. The freedom to work in the quiet without interruption. The predictability and structure I crave. The mental bandwidth to pursue challenges outside of managing their needs.
When school closed initially at the end of March, I balked at the idea of homeschooling for two weeks, let alone six as the stay-at-home order was extended. We rallied though, creating new routines and finding ways to embrace this unexpected interruption of life as we knew it. It wasn’t what we would have chosen, but we could do anything for a month and a half. Right?
Then the announcement came that we both expected and feared: no school for the rest of the spring. Our spirits deflated. The finish line moved just when we thought we were in the home stretch of the race.
In order to survive, we cut back to only the essentials. Nothing extra, nothing draining, just the bare minimum learning requirements. We were pacing ourselves–I knew every battle I chose to fight would deplete the energy reserves we needed to keep from collapsing.
I just needed to get us across the finish line and into September. Or so I thought.
It wasn’t a shock to hear that school would be a hybrid model, nor was I surprised by the decision several weeks later to move our students to full-time distance learning to begin the year. I understand and fully support the wisdom of our community leaders who have not made these decisions lightly.
But the requirements of this race–the battle over each assignment, the constant supervision of online activities, the stress of managing everyone’s schedules and assignments, the tension it creates in my relationships with my kids, the disruption of my own work–is more than I have left to give.
The finish line keeps moving, and I’m already so, so tired. I wonder if you can relate?
Maybe your race looks different than mine.
You may be an educator who has worked harder and longer than anyone knows to learn new technology and create lessons you never wanted to teach online.
You might find yourself losing steam as you work from home, or even struggling to make ends meet after losing your job unexpectedly.
Maybe you’re a leader who has continually reinvented how your organization functions, pivoting to change your strategy each time new guidelines are released.
You might be hustling to keep the doors of your small business open after an economic lockdown you only thought would last a couple weeks.
Maybe you’re fighting the continual battle against food, alcohol, or other coping strategies as a way to anesthetize the stress of this upside down year.
You may find yourself sinking in the waters of anxiety or depression, wondering if you’ll ever feel like yourself again.
Whatever race you’re running this fall, you have every reason to be tired. And being tired doesn’t make you weak and it doesn’t mean you’re doing anything wrong. It’s just been a really, really long race.
It doesn’t help that the finish line keeps moving.
So how do we keep running when we feel like we have nothing left?
- We run together. We remind one another of what we ourselves desperately need to hear: You are stronger than you know, braver than you feel, and more necessary than you think. We look up from the ground right in front of us and notice the friend who needs a metaphorical drink of water, whether in the form of a note in the mail, a coffee on her doorstep, a reminder that she’s doing enough. And we allow others to do the same for us.
- We conserve our energy. We slow down and shed any extra weight that makes this long race any harder than it already is. We relentlessly cut out anything that isn’t necessary or life-giving, whether it’s a nonessential project, an unrealistic goal, a draining obligation. This is not the season to add extra–the goal is to persevere, not to win first place.
- We refuel regularly. We purposefully integrate practices into our daily and weekly rhythms that provide rest, renewal, and even joy. Since no one else knows exactly what will replenish us, we must be unashamed in asking for what we need. As we prioritize self-care, we give others the freedom to do the same.
In this seemingly unending season where the finish line keeps moving, may we be extra gentle toward ourselves, in thought and in action. You are running a good race, friend. It’s not over yet, but you’ve got what it takes to keep putting one foot in front of the other. Don’t quit. Keep breathing. I’m right here next to you, cheering you on.