Keeping pace with the school of life

In Thomas Spriggs’ 'The Runner’s Guide to the Universe,' he writes, “Should you fail today, you will try again tomorrow. You might use bitter and hurtful words today, but you will try again tomorrow…

A HIGH-FIVE is the perfect attitude to start the school year with. (photo credit: MAAYAN HOFFMAN)
A HIGH-FIVE is the perfect attitude to start the school year with.
(photo credit: MAAYAN HOFFMAN)
“All glory comes from daring to begin,” said Eugene Fitch Ware.
Ware, who served as commissioner of pensions under the administration of US president Theodore Roosevelt, was a journalist and poet from my home state of Kansas. His quote came to mind this week, as I sent my children off for another year of school.
Four of my seven children transitioned to new schools on Sunday. There was a healthy combination of anticipation, excitement and tears in my house after Shabbat, as the children packed their bags and picked out their clothes for the first day.
“What if I don’t have any friends?” one child asked me. “What if I take the wrong bus home and end up lost?” another child asked as she nibbled furiously at the already raw skin around her nails.
“The first step is always the hardest,” I told them. “The rest is easy.”
The saying is nice, but we all know that change is difficult. Many people not only resist it, but seek to undermine change. A recent article by the Harvard Business Review reported that merely 26% of company transformation initiatives succeed.
However, improvements never happen and goals are never met if you are unwilling to try.
When I set out to run my first 5 km. race at 15 years old, such a run felt so long. I could not imagine how I would have the stamina to complete the course at a decent speed. I almost considered not showing up for fear of failing. But my coach told me then that the goal was not to win, just to take the first step.
He was right. Once I started, I forgot how nervous I was and I just ran. I came in third.
That 5k soon became a 10k, which became a half-marathon and then a marathon. I won some races. I set a lot of personal records. But most of all, I just kept pushing myself to show up.
Right now, I am “training” for the Bible Marathon half-marathon race in October. Two years ago, I competed in the 5k and came in third. Last year, I ran the 10k and placed 10th.
My goal this year is to just run.
THE BIBLE Marathon race course is considered the hardest course in the country. You run through the stunning hills of Samaria, on rocky terrain and through slippery vineyards.
Let’s be honest: I am old, I work too much, sleep too little and have a lot of competing priorities. There have been more days than less recently when crawling back into bed sounds more appealing than lacing up my running shoes. I can come up with a handful of excuses every morning for why today’s run is not necessary or would be better skipped.
But nearly every time, I force myself (or my husband forces me) out the door and onto the open roads.
The first half-mile is always the hardest. But usually by the time I get going, I realize how happy I am to be out on that run. It feels good – physically and mentally. And it gives me strength of mind to believe I will be able to tackle whatever I am hit with that day at work or home.
As compulsive runners will tell you, running is not just about staying thin or maintaining one’s physical health. Runner’s euphoria – “runner’s high” – is a real, proven benefit.
According to a study in the journal Cerebral Cortex, running produces feel-good endorphins in the areas of the brain associated with emotion. Researchers found most people to be happier and more relaxed during and after runs. The same endorphins that produce runner’s high also relieve stress and improve mood.
Sometimes, my runs are not great, of course. And other times, the endorphins are depleted way too quickly and the day just sucks. But I lace up my shoes the next morning anyway. I go back to work. I give the child who refused to eat her dinner a hug. I say good morning to my husband even if we had been arguing. I try again. 
In Thomas Spriggs’ The Runner’s Guide to the Universe, he writes, “Should you fail today, you will try again tomorrow. You might use bitter and hurtful words today, but you will try again tomorrow… Should day after day of failure pass by until they have become as the sand of the sea, you will get up and try again tomorrow. Should the circumstances of life leave you bloodied and hurting, you will try again tomorrow. Should the sorrows of life leave you stumbling through the darkest night in which there is no light, you will get up and run another day.”
Ironically, the saying “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again” is a proverb that has been traced back to Teacher’s Manual by American educator Thomas H. Palmer (1782-1861). Originally, the maxim was used to encourage American schoolchildren to do their homework.
So, it’s the perfect lesson for our children on their first week of school.
And it relates to another rule that my high school coach gave me – and for some reason I still listen to him: Never stop running.
He used to tell us that you could slow down and alter your goal, but that even if you felt that you were propelling forward at the pace of the slowest turtle, you must maintain your form and keep running.
I subconsciously thank him all the time for this wisdom, but especially on those days when I wake up and think, “I just don’t have the energy to do it all again today.” But I always do. After all, if you don’t stop, the only option is to keep going.
Gordon Tredgold, founder and CEO of Leadership Principles, recently wrote in the magazine Inc. that “we can choose to quit, which is the only real failure…
“Every major success is built on a solid bedrock of previous failures.”
Read Maayan Jaffe's previous "Running Uphill" column>>