Practice Makes…Harder? 19


I am, according to my training bible, Marathoning for Mortals, a bona fide LONG DISTANCE ATHLETE. I’ll pause here a minute to let you take in the full glory of that.

OK? Sufficiently impressed? I’m sure.

I was recently disabused of a long-held notion, one that I told myself as I struggled through linear equations in *gag* math class. A motto I dictate to my children when theY grumble about homework, or learning how to properly fold a towel so as to give maximum aesthetic pleasure to their mother, who adores having her towels in matching, tidy columns.

The truth I’m beginning to question:

The longer you do something, the easier it gets.

This truth is still true, to a point.

Monday was the first day to train for my next marathon. The run bible told me to run, nice and easy, for 40 minutes, with a warm up and a cool down. Now, remember, I’m a LONG DISTANCE ATHLETE, so this is like walking to the mailbox. I can polish my nails while knocking out 40 minutes. This is also where I learn again the truth about pride coming before a fall.

I was all that, trotting along jauntily in my brand new, snazzy running dress that I crafted with my own two hands from the remains of an unused soccer jersey. I had on my visor, my sunglasses, my jazzy bpm tunes. You better believe it.

And then the fall. It wasn’t dramatic, or gory or interesting. I just got tired, and hot, and kind of cranky. The heat seemed to crack a fissure in my skull and melt my brain, making my limbs unable to function with any kind of grace or efficiency. I used to get home from runs feeling like I was ascending the podium, ready for the heavy gold medal, Freddie Mercury extolling my place as the Champion of the World. Not so much on Monday.

I was mad. Mad that my attempt was so poor. Mad that I was mad. You see the circuitous nature of this thinking? You are wiser than I.

While it is true that the more a person practices something, anything—math, running, sewing, writing, luging, graphing—the better one will get. But, there’s another side of that deliciously tempting coin.

In order to continue to improve, the training must become more challenging. And that’s just mean.

What if, the longer one does a thing, the more challenging it becomes?

Put another way, while I certainly have an easier time running 40 minutes now than I did when I was just a sprout runner, I have different goals now. I have higher expectations of myself and new standards of success. I wanted, expected, that 40 minute run to be easy. And, a year ago, it would have felt easier. On Monday, it felt hard, because I knew it was not the limit of my ability and I knew, as I trained, that it would be one of my shorter runs.

Because I am not just a LONG DISTANCE ATHLETE but a seamstress and a writer, I can see this principle in these areas as well. I used to only sew straight lines on cotton. Easy. Now? I make gowns, swimsuits, dresses out of old shirts! I used to write really horrible poetry. Now? I like to think I can string a few words together alright. But to get there, I had to push myself, try new techniques, be willing to fail, and be willing to throw up my hands disgusted with my results.

Practice might make me better at a thing, but it also makes me want more. Not necessarily to be crowned an Olympian or to receive high praise from fancy pants writers, but to challenge myself.

Does doing a thing longer make it easier or harder? Do you like to find your comfortable spot and stay there or do you like to see how fast and how far you can go?