i have a friend who is participating in her first ironman competition on sunday. she has trained and consulted and trained some more. she wears a high tech contraption around her wrist that tells her things like her heart rate, her speed and distance, and, i imagine, other things like when the sun sets and rises. she has eaten correctly and minded her schedule. i admire her dedication to this task immensely. 
when i asked her her start time for race day she told me it was 7 a.m. “the course closes at midnight so, if i’m not done by then, i’ll have to stop.” i laughed. i thought she was joking. i had never really counted up the time it would take to swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 miles, and run a full marathon (26.2 miles). in case you haven’t either, let me tell you now...it takes a ridiculously long time. in my case, an impossibly long time. i could never do it and i’ll tell you why.
i don’t want to.
this forces me to confront an all too true reality for me. there are alot of things i simply don’t want to do. i don’t think i’m alone in this. neither do i believe that i should want to do all things. the tricky thing for me, however, is that there are things i’d really like to do that are difficult but don’t register as “wants” and would require training. the kind of training that my friend has done only in a completely different way.
when she and i meet up at the end of a day and i’m sweating from my five mile walk only to find she’s just swam a mile (or biked 100) it’s easy for me to diminish my exercise and feel silly about my davidian efforts compared to her goliath ones. this belittling never comes from her. it’s all from me and it reminds me how comfortable it is to put myself down, feel badly, then do whatever i can to distract myself so i don’t have to invest in making things different. there’s something missed in this process of avoidance, however, and it is this: there are pursuits that i see as noble and that i could train for every single day. perhaps not with the same dogged determination and spelled-out time frame but i could train. if we’re all really honest, i imagine we all could.
we all have some amazing gift to bring to the world. we also have unbelievable pleasures to receive in proportion to the effort we invest in life. when my friend trains with deliberateness, when she sacrifices for her goal, when she reaches a new insight or level of accomplishment she receives the deep satisfaction of feeling her strength as well as inspiring those of us near her to consider the ways in which we are strong (or not). this is important work. it is the work of listening to the deep longings of the soul and taking them seriously. of dedicating oneself to a journey and taking the first and second and third and forth and fifth steps of that journey and then taking more. and more. it is the task of committing to that which one feels called to. or led to. or desirous of. it is the work of discipline and self control and also of celebrating.
training works on the concept of overlearning. by beginning with achievable goals and succeeding at successively larger and more demanding tasks, the trainee develops not only actual acquired skills but also an incrementally larger sense of confidence. when one has trained well, the body, mind, and emotions work together and each knows what to do to compensate for and compliment the other. when the body tires or emotions threaten to shortchange our efforts, the mind can kick in and vice versa. practicing this kind of integration past the point of mere acquisition leads to mastery and a “cellular memory” of sorts where the mind, body, and emotions work together with seemingly little effort. good training takes time and must be done long before the actual skill is needed. determination, sacrifice, and overcoming indifference and disappointment are required over extended periods of time for training to be effective.
in the west we tend to speak of training only in the contexts of athletic or physical feats or vocational tasks. in religious traditions around the globe, however, we hear of training the mind and heart through prayer and contemplation, the body through a variety of practices, and the emotions via submission to a higher power. what might it look like for us to expand our notion of training to include this broader view? if i applied the concepts of overlearning, discipline, and incrementally expanding practice i could achieve all kinds of health and healing. i could practice five minutes of mindfulness or contemplative prayer until it became and hour and then a day. i could withhold passing judgement and extending greater empathy in individual encounters and expand this way of being into my for months at a time. i could learn to play an instrument or eat differently or write more.  i could, if i chose to, compete in an ironman.
if i ever participate in an ironman, however, it will most likely be as a support person. i’d be happy to hand out water, keep people on course, or cheer. i’m capable of registering participants, holding signs, and possibly even performing basic first aid. but none of this would be a stretch for me. it wouldn’t require training. i’ve trained in the way of supporting and it’s now easy for me. i can finish that by midnight with very little effort.
my task, then, if i want to move toward growth and maturity, is to listen to the stirrings of my soul about areas i feel would deepen me, and, therefore, my presence in this world. to wonder about wanting to train for things that would be hard for me. that i might “fail” at. that might make me stronger in all kinds of ways. like, perhaps, a 7 a.m. to midnight period of time free from worry or 17 hours wherein i actually rest when i’m tired or eat when i’m hungry. my training might include a completely different set of disciplines and have radically different results than reducing the time in which i run a mile and yet the payoff could include results i long for. more groundedness. more connectedness with both myself and others. more determination, grit, and reason to believe in myself.
so while my friend swims, bikes, and runs her way to the finish line i am committing to try something hard for me for the 15 plus hours she’s at it. at the end i will celebrate her accomplishment loudly. at the same time i’ll quietly recognize the importance of my own day of training and use her success to inspire my efforts, reminding myself that each day of training is significant...especially when i don’t want to.

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