Sprints, Marathons and Boxing

COVID-19, and all of the events of 2020 have gotten me revisiting some of the ideas around grit, determination, tenacity, and the like. In my office I used to have a framed print that said something like “everything is possible for those with enough persistence.” I suppose this is true, but it seems a bit fantastical and lacking in day-to-day pragmatism.

But there is clearly value in the virtue of persistence.

So how do you apply this persistence? And when? Does it apply to all situations? What if you are in a crappy job? Or a crappy relationship? Should you be persistent then? Presumably, that answer is no.

Further, is persistence the only meritorious virtue in the game of getting through difficult situations? That doesn’t seems reasonable either. What about tenacity, or resilience?

As I pondered this dilemma – particularly in light of all that has been thrown at us in 2020 – I felt that I needed to go to the core of the meaning of these three words. I’ll spare you the repeat of the dictionary, but generally speaking:

  • Persistence is doing the same thing repeatedly, without giving up.
  • Resilience is the ability to recover quickly.
  • Tenacity is reevaluating what you are doing to continue your progress.

All these traits are valuable, but I’d argue that they are most effective when applied to specific situations.

As you’ve maybe seen on other parts of the blog, I used to be an avid runner. I can adequately claim successful completion of distances from 5K to marathons. Although, I definitely prefer half-marathons or below. Marathons just never were my distance.

On the other hand, I never boxed. And while I took Tae-Kwon-Do, when my boys were younger and in the class, I don’t really think that counts.

But here’s the thing, the three different sports and their analogous counterparts in day-to-day life also require different approaches.

Sprints (think about 5ks), I would argue, need persistence. They are short, there isn’t a lot of time for course corrections, and to do well, you just need to go close to full throttle for the entire duration. If things get tough, usually the best strategy is gut it out and push through. They are over pretty quickly, so just do the best you can.

Marathons on the other hand, are long – 26.2 miles to be exact. And when you are running those miles there will be good miles and there will be miles that suck. And, not all the good miles are early and not all the miles are at the end. To me, the last mile of a marathon always felt the best.

But here’s the thing, you can’t get through a marathon with persistence. Some people will say that you just need to ignore the pain the whole way, but that is silly because most people don’t hurt in the beginning. You need to stay hydrated, but that requires a different approach on mile one than on mile 18, when the temperature usually increased.

Tenacity is your friend on a marathon or other long distance challenge. It recognizes that things are different at miles 1, 6, 18 and 26, and prompts you to respond to the situation at the time so that you can keep moving ahead. And, similar to tenacity, it also recognizes that you can’t stop. Your timer begins when you cross the start line and it doesn’t stop until you cross the finish line. Walking, running, sprinting, that clock keeps ticking.

But most of life’s situations, I would argue, aren’t like either a sprint or a marathon. Many times they are more like a boxing match. You have a rough week at work, but you take the weekend off. You have a tough project you need to get through, but at some point it ends.

Maybe you treat the project like a sprint, maybe it’s a marathon, but they are all within that boxing match. And boxing matches take a different skill. Those require resilience. And here’s the thing about resilience, it recognizes the downtime, it recognizes the importance of breaks.

If you are boxing or sparring, the bell dings and you go. Whether that round goes well or poorly, a few minutes later that bell dings again, and you stop. Your ability to utilize that downtime and come back refreshed is a big determinant in how well you do in the next round.

Life has a lot of downtime. Nights, weekends, staycations, vacations, even lunch breaks are downtime that you can use to recharge. Resilient people are able to use their downtime to recharge effectively so they come back refreshed for the next round. They recognize that now matter how bad a week is, it ends in 168 hours. Then, the calendar turns and another week begins anew.

I think resilience should be given more credit than it currently receives. I’m not against tenacity or persistence, but in most of life’s situations, they aren’t enough. And while all these tools can be helpful, resilience should be part of your life’s strategy.