When the Plan Gets Pulled Out from Under You

When the Plan Gets Pulled Out from Under You Last Friday I woke up unable to move.

Sometime between James's 4:30 a.m. visit and the alarm going off two hours later, my lower back seized up worse than a failed batch of fudge. [Seasonally appropriate metaphor, check.]

I know what caused it---an ill-considered hoisting of The Boy while he was having a meltdown earlier in the week---but that was small comfort. I spent most of Friday popping Aleve and gingerly rotating between sitting, reclining and lying down, since nothing felt comfortable.

By Saturday night I had enough anti-inflammatories in my system that I could get around all right. We went to our church's Christmas party and had a nice time, and I managed to preach on Sunday. (Even talked about my back injury.)

But for the whole weekend I was consumed by one thought:

What about the marathon?

Three weeks from today we'll be packing for a trip to Florida, where we'll spend the weekend with my siblings and their families. And, if the way be clear, I'll be running the Disney Marathon with my brother.

I say "If the way be clear." And I've been saying it all along, kinda for luck more than anything. Truth be told, I haven't doubted that the way would be clear. I've got good shoes. A supportive spouse and family. Space in my schedule to train. And a rock-solid training plan. It won't be fast, and it won't be pretty, but this thing's gonna happen, dang it---of that I was sure.

Until last Friday.

Five days later, I'm feeling better. No more meds, no more twinges. A little stiffness but I seem to be on my way to recovery.

But I still haven't run. It will be more than a week off by the time I venture out again. Friday is supposed to be 20 miles. I'm not ready for that. Not near ready. Eighteen is as far as I've gotten and that was a couple weeks ago.

Many marathoners have told me that the challenge is mostly mental. I believe that. And I imagine that different people wrestle different demons on this. My demon is pretty simple:

I am the rule following good girl. Hal Higdon tells me when and how far to run, and I do it. He has assured me that I will be successful if I follow the plan, and I believe him because he knows what he's talking about. Do what I'm told and nothing will go wrong. Nothing bad will happen. How could it? I have a plan. And the plan is foolproof.

But I am made of vulnerable flesh and muscle and nerve. I am not foolproof. Life is not foolproof. Life is full of fool, actually.

Plans are awesome, right up to the point when they become useless.

My favorite sign at the half marathon I did in March, the one that brought tears to my eyes on the monster hill off Rock Creek Parkway, was "Trust Your Training."

I do. Until I can't.

So Now what? was my question all weekend, until a friend at church said this:

"You know you're home free, right? They say that if you can do 18 miles, you can run a marathon."

But but but... the schedule! Hal Higdon! I'm off my plan!

"Just make a new plan."

Wait, what?!

"Make a new plan. A plan that involves you running 18 miles. Which you've already done. It's like writing something you've already done on your to-do list just so you can cross it off."

Whoa. So I can still have a plan? I just need a different one? Hallelujah. And duh. 

My life's constant spiritual challenge is to love what is rather than clinging to that flawless thing I've meticulously planned. It's why I'm drawn to improv, which requires responsiveness and flexibility. But I'm a remedial student of improv, at best. I am a J on the Myers-Briggs. I still need a plan, even if it changes.

In fact, maybe that's how we uber-planners learn to live more improvisationally---not by living without a plan, but by making new ones. As we get more comfortable going from plan A to plan B, we learn to feel comfortable not having our whole life worked out. We don't feel lost without a six-month plan; a three week plan will suffice. And then a two-day plan. And then a plan for just this hour. And just this minute. Responding at the speed of life, shifting as the situation requires.

Inhaling. Exhaling. For 26 miles and 385 yards.


Image is a crazy quilt of marathon training plans from Google Images. By the way, it's a birthday and I want to give you free stuff.