Long-Distance Running, Climate Change, and my Mom

Written by Ditch

My absolute worst fear is sounding like a Nike commercial. The world of sports so often is connected to pithy statements that are, apparently, intended to motivate. Your “Just do it” and “Impossible is nothing”. I’ve shied away from these sentiments because they not only do absolutely nothing to motivate me, they also exude this strange sense of hyper-masculinity that requires buckets of sweat, slow-motion, and designer socks to accomplish anything. In lieu of catchy slogans though, I have held on to one word: persistence.

Several years back I first saw a poster that struck me. On it is a printed image of a person riding a bike through a field of mature dandelions with the single word “persist” underneath. I didn’t start thinking about this poster and the idea of persistence again until a while later when I had started pondering what it was that I found so powerful in my mom. With what I could sense but not articulate in her actions was quiet and subtle. It was beneath the surface but foundational. Eventually I connected this string of thought to the image of the poster that had been kicking around in my head for years and realized that is what my mother had been doing: persisting. And what powers lies in that? The ability to find happiness through a long winter. The power to be the glue of a family.

A defining moment in my college career was the experience of doing work against a proposed taconite mine. At the time, it didn’t feel like a brief moment in time but the lion share of my life’s work and energy. Over the course of a couple years we planned, organized, drew, painted, yelled and slept little. Eventually the mining company pulled away and we celebrated what we saw as a victory. During that time there was one final meeting where folks of many ages were meeting to talk, digest, and be grateful. We were all seated in a circle and across from me sat a woman who had been doing environmental work in the area for years. She was addressing the group and remarked that though this surely was a victory, it was just one fight in a long string of fights. Just because one company that wanted to extract wealth from our hills and pollute our water has gone, it doesn’t mean another one won’t come sniffing around. Be ready, she said, for this story will play itself out again. After they spoke, a certain weight settled over me which hasn’t left. Protecting the places and planet we love doesn’t require just a few years. It requires a lifetime. It requires a soft and supple strength that doesn’t burn out. Addressing the issue of global climate change is the same: we have to shoulder on and keep moving, despite all the failures and setbacks. 

I’ve started to apply this same mindset when running. Running long distances doesn’t necessitate great feats of strength. It only means the very simple act of putting one foot in front of the other. Again and again. There is no secret. There is no magic formula. This is the epitome of persistence. To keep doing a very small act, humbly and carefully in deference to a larger, nearly unobtainable goal. In persistence there is a certain sweetness, a devotion to self and ideal that when played out over a long period of time creates something larger than itself. I love the idea of persistence precisely because it is something that can’t be packaged and sold back to us. I love persistence because it is inglorious and, ultimately, most powerful. 

Persistently Yours,