Who would have guessed that such a forgetful, little blue fish would be so memorable? Anyone who's seen Pixar’s Finding Nemo, will likely remember Dora. I certainly do. Dora’s voice, rather Ellen DeGeneres’s, will frequently pop into my head singing “just keep swimming, swimming, swimming. What do we do? We swim, swim.” Dora often visits when I'm struggling with something, like wrestling octopi or running.
I am not an endurance athlete and strongly believe that long distance runners are crazy. My theory was confirmed when I began qualifying six mile runs as “short.” For me, that’s just plain lunacy. Not so much the act of running those miles—anymore—but the fact that I consider them easily doable. On longer runs, however, my lunges, hamstrings, right ankle and left arch beg me to question my sanity. Just what the hell … do you think you are doing?
I will tell you the same thing I told each of my aching body parts. Repetitive foot strikes expose answers to existential questions that former methods of exertion hadn't. Perhaps hefting a 25 pound dumbbell overhead with a sweaty palm and trembling triceps limited my awareness to the physical danger at hand, so to speak. In contrast, a runner’s cadence has trance-like qualities provided one can dismiss muscle soreness, garb related irritants, and sometimes pain. When confidence wanes, Dora’s mantra motivates me: “Just keep swimming.”
Running distances greater than 10 miles is as much a mental game as a physical test. Perhaps the number ten’s association with "decade" implies the time it will take me to run it, or the years off my life in doing so. It could be ten’s relation to Jim Zorn, a former quarterback for the Seahawks of whom I had a crush and couldn’t wait to turn 10 so I’d match the number on his jersey. That, of course, was long ago and reminds me how much my body has depreciated. Perhaps the mental torment comes simply from the fact that every mile past 10 feels twice as long.
It was during one of these brutal runs that I realized the universal application of Dora’s philosophy. Yes, the road before us may rise rapidly but the intensity of the challenge will subside. The terrain will level, the gusting headwind will lessen, and our body’s ability to convert oxygen will return. This is true for almost anything. If we continue moving, things change and likely improve. It is stagnation that ruins us.
By kicking one foot out in front of the other, again and again, I have accomplished distances that, as a whole, would intimidate and prevent me from ever lacing up my shoes. I’ve learned to trick myself and divide scary tasks into segments like an orange. After all, we wouldn’t try to eat the orange whole. We’d peel it and break it into manageable sections. Why not apply the same concept elsewhere.
I am confident that I can run a mile, write a paragraph, talk to one client, or swim a lap. By surviving one challenge, I am encouraged to tackle more. Who knows … maybe someday all my forgettable triumphs will produce something memorable. If nothing else, I can look back and see how far I’ve swam.