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Doing hard things

On Sunday morning, at about 9:59, I’ll take a moment to remember JFK. It’s not his birthday or the anniversary of his assassination or anything like that; it’s the start of the Edinburgh Marathon.

Toe-ing the line, as close to the front of my pen as I can be, I’ll invariably think of his 1962 speech at Rice University. And no, contrary to what recent performances suggest, I’m not old enough to have heard it live.

Addressing the American people, he spoke about the need to do things that test our abilities and take all our energies and skills. He spoke, essentially, about doing hard things.

We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organise and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win, and the others, too.

As cliched as that might sound, thinking of that at the start of a marathon helps me to get in the zone. I know that my unrelenting attempts to beat this distance are not quite the same as humankind trying to make it to the moon - but it’s all relative, isn’t it?

We take on challenges in our lives because we want to know what we can do and how far we can push. That might be running, a work project, a creative endeavour – or many other things. We push ourselves because doing hard things helps us find out what we’re made of and stretch our capacity.

Training for a marathon is hard. Your body takes a pounding, you wrestle with whether to continue or walk away. Sometimes you get injured. You turn down social invites to spend three hours running in miserable weather. I mean, sensible people just don’t do this with their lives.

Then you have race day itself. As I think about the race ahead I know that I will most likely have to push through pain barriers and battle against the desire to walk away. At some point, usually a little before the twenty mile mark, my brain will tell my legs that we don’t have enough energy to keep going and they should stop. I’ll spend the next however long desperately trying to overrule my brain and convince my legs of the truth: they do have the energy and they can keep going.

Whichever way you look at it, doing a marathon is hard. Whether you’re flying around, pushing for your BQ, or pressing through a few yards ahead of a sweeper bus, it’s hard work. We’re all pushing for whatever goal is relevant to us.

And that’s why we do it; if it was easy we’d not bother. So I’ll remember JFK’s speech and be encouarged by that sentiment. We’re not going to the moon, but we are pushing our bodies towards a goal that takes the best of our energies and skills.

I don’t know what to expect from Sunday. I’m looking forward to finding out and to once again giving my best effort at breaking the barrier that taunts me – the 3:30 mark. My times across shorter distances should have me coming in comfortably under that but I haven’t been able to conquer the wall yet.

To get to my target I’ll have to take almost fourteen minutes off my personal best. It’s a big ask, but “we choose to do these things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard”.