My friend — and occasional running partner — Tony Anderson recently completed a yearslong journey of running a marathon in every state to raise money for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northwestern Michigan. These words he wrote capture perfectly what we’re all experiencing:
We have passed the five-month mark of this “new normal.” As sports are cancelled, schools go virtual only and businesses struggle, I sometimes feel like we are at mile 20 of a marathon.
An old running cliche states that the race really starts at mile 20. The last 6 miles test your preparation, resolve and mental toughness more than any part of the journey. When I would pass by (my wife) Mary in the crowd at this point in a race, she would ask, “How’s it going?” I would respond, “I’m all right.”
It was always the truth. However, I was never OK. The body was always hurting somewhere, and the mental fatigue from pushing forward for hours was real. Yeah, nobody is ever “OK” at mile 20.
I know this is where I am at this point in the pandemic. If you are tired mentally, it should be expected. If you want it to just be over, I’m with you. I have a friend who likes to say, “It’s OK to not be OK.”
We need to communicate with our loved ones at home and with our co-workers on the job. We need to recognize that on any given day, the struggle of others may be greater than our own. We need to take turns lifting each other up with a kind word, a wave, a socially distanced chat or a simple holding of a door. I have pulled strangers to a finish line, and other times, they have inspired me to keep going. It can change from one mile to the next or one day to the other.
When you accept the fact that the 6 miles in front of you are a better alternative than going back the 20 miles behind you, it strengthens your inner resolve to move on. This is where mental toughness comes in. Watch the ending of a marathon sometime. You will find body types of all shapes and sizes and people from all walks of life. There is just one thing they all have in common: mental toughness.
It’s time for every community to stare down the final 6 miles and crush it. If you need a mental break, take it. If somebody seems “off,” recognize it. Be the one to lead the conversation that helps somebody move forward.
I’m all right, but I’m not OK. I’m tired of everything pandemic. Finding the mental strength to carry on is my No. 1 priority. Admitting you are not OK is a big first step. I believe it is a sign of strength and leadership. We all have the ability to lead somebody to the finish line by being the one to make the initial move. At the same time you are helping others, you will help yourself. If there is one thing the marathon has taught me, it is this.
This is not something we are experiencing alone. This is happening to all of us. We have many races to win… together. (Dedicated to my co-workers at Cherryland Electric Cooperative who inspire me to move forward every day.)
Tony Anderson is the general manager of Cherryland Electric Cooperative in Grawn, Michigan.