I recently made a startling realization. I think I’m a lazy person trying to live an ambitious life.
I don’t want to be lazy. I like to pretend I’m not lazy. I like to hang out with non-lazy people and talk about doing non-lazy things, like running marathons and writing books and learning to speak German. But truth be told, it’s all very unnatural for me. I feel like I’m always trying to convince myself that I want to do things I don’t feel like doing. It’s a case of mistaken identity. I’m a remiss sloth trying to convince itself that it is really an industrious ant.
Sprawled out in some giant tree, arms limp, head drooping, I watch the ants down below making hills and tunnels, looking so productive and happy.
“Hey! Wait for me!” I cry from my branch. “I want to make hills and tunnels, too! I want to work hard! I want to be productive!”
But instead of scuttling down the tree and hoisting something a billion times my body weight (or whatever it is ants can lift), I find it takes everything I have just to fall off the branch.
Why is this so hard? I wonder as I drag my arms and legs across the ground, terrifically slow and uncoordinated. Do the other ants feel like this? How come they don’t look like they’re trying this hard? Why is this taking so much effort?
Well, I think it’s because I’m a sloth trying to pass as an ant. How do I know? The other day, I stopped my run at 6.78 miles. That’s right.
Saints preserve us.
It was your standard, garden-variety daily run, with no pace or distance requirements. But as all runners know, you never, ever end your run on anything short of a whole number. We’ll run circles in the parking lot for twenty minutes before we stop at something that ends with a point-anything-but-zero. To end a run without a whole number plastered across your Garmin is to commit long distance blasphemy.
But the other day, without the stipulation of an impending marathon or the authority of a training schedule, I defaulted to a less impressive version of myself. The version that, for reasons unknown to the universe, cannot make my bed to save my life. The version that makes brownie batter, but never actually gets around to baking the brownies. The version that drinks straight from the faucet rather than, you know, getting a glass. The version that watched an entire episode of The Golden Girls because the remote control was across the room, and I didn’t feel like getting up to change the channel.
Running has taught me many things. It has revealed my strengths and exposed my weaknesses. It has pushed me to do more than I ever thought possible. It has also shown me that I am, by nature, fantastically lazy.
I am convinced my current lifestyle is contrary to my very constitution. Don’t get me wrong. I love running. I love starting my day hours before the sun and knocking out twenty miles. I love the exhausted exhilaration of a PR. I love the way it feels to pour yourself out on the track and be absolutely tickled pink when you look at your splits. But I’m also acutely aware of the amount of effort it takes for me to wake up early or to motivate myself to run a track workout at all. I mean, do all runners have anxiety the night before a tempo run? Are all runners consumed with dread at the thought of 5K race pace? Do all runners secretly wish they had chosen a less stressful hobby, like stamp collecting or knitting or ceramics? I mean, just think of all the doilies I’d have by now if I had decided to crochet instead of run.
I’d have doilies coming out the wazoo.
Yes, I’ve been cursed with a go-getter mind in a couch potato body. Rather than running, I’m more suited to something actively sedentary. Like speed crocheting. Or competitive sitting. But there is a tragic lack of demand for such amusements, and in order to appease my aspirations, I must submit my body to physical exertion. Thus, I run gazillions of miles at uncivilized hours at paces that have me seriously considering running in tectonically unstable areas just so I can hold on to the cheerful hope that at any given moment the good earth might open up and swallow me alive.
Because, let’s be honest, me trying to be a distance runner is like the Cubs trying to be winners. Like Nicki Minaj trying to sound literate. Like Taylor Swift trying to write about anything other than a breakup. Like Anthony Weiner trying not to use his cell phone. Like the Patriots trying not to be cheaters. Like Canada trying to be relevant. (Just kidding… God bless Canada.)
Nevertheless, I try. I preach to myself the benefits of hard work and discipline. I imbibe motivational quotes like they’re about to be outlawed. I remind myself that running is supposed to be hard and that races are supposed to hurt. I tell myself that if it hurts, if it’s uncomfortable, if I’d rather watch another episode of The Golden Girls than run one more lap around the track, then I’m doing something right.
Because, despite my lazy predilections, I don’t want to settle for comfortable. I don’t want to settle for easy. Or predictable. Or guaranteed. Because without effort, there is no reward. Because, ultimately, the path of least resistance leads to a dead end.
So every day I push my slothful inclinations aside. In running, in work, in finances, in relationships—in every part of life—I have to resist my initial reaction to take the easy way and instead persevere in the best way. I have to remind myself to be inspired by challenges, not intimidated by them. Because I don’t want to be the voluntary proprietor of a shortchanged life. Because I have no desire to watch from the sidelines. Because if I’m gonna get off the couch, I want an adventure.
Still… if anyone hears about a competitive sitting contest, let me know.
Amy L. Marxkors is the author of The Lola Papers: Marathons, Misadventures, and How I Became a Serious Runner. Her second book, Powered By Hope: The Teri Griege Story, will be released in 2014.