This Is What Resilience Is All About

Many of you know that I teach/mentor a course on mental wellness. It specifically focuses on Mental Resilience for first responders. I don’t always practice what I preach, and I’m childish  when I fret. 

But the base has been laid down for a couple of decades. I have waxed and waned on my physical/mental resilience. I’ve slacked off due to injuries, or desk work, and neglected my well-being on more than one occasion over the years. 

However, I’ve always realized that if I kept to certain basic principles and just endured the stupid things that happen I could do some amazing things. This is where the resilience comes in: I have done it in the past and I know that while I’m older and slower, I can still do many of the tasks I pulled off 23 years ago when I did my first half-marathon.

With that in mind, I started training for this race last summer before I even knew it was coming. My original goal was to walk 13.1 miles on Veteran’s day. But the Southwest Florida heat and humidity made that training hard. I never got past about the 6 mile mark with a light pack. It was just stupid to force my over sixty body to do it in the heat of the day. Chewy could only manage about 1.5 miles with comfort. So we dialed back and did that for a few months. 

Then, in a serendipitous moment, I was talking to the manager of the local AAMCO who was replacing my clutch. Turns out he was training and running 1/2 marathons, not sure he could do a full. I told him that if I could do it (Green Bay 2000) anyone with the will could do it. He told me about a marathon 10 miles from my house. That marathon was this past Saturday. 

We both signed up that day, and I started to train in earnest. My wife’s surgeries (four of them in two months) hindered my progress, but I stuck with a basic plan and got up to doing 8 miles with a 34 pound pack. My goal was to wear a 35 pound pack for the half-marathon. No problem in sight, as I headed into January with a goal of adding a few pounds of weight each walk and two more miles by the end of the month. 

Then the flu hit. I haven’t been that sick in a very long time. I was wasted. No energy, just wanted to sleep. I managed to make my work commitments over that time but no training. I started to train again just two full weeks before the race, but was struck with food poisoning. Three more days shot. This is me at the pathetic nadir of 3.5 weeks of being sick and listless.

But two things happened at the same time: we had winter and I knew I was going to do this. I watched all of my plantain trees turn brown and appear to die. No leaves left. But, like my training and visualization of doing this race, they had a good basis. I planted them deep, lined the holes with white wood chips, cow manure, and Miracle Grow potting soil. Our land is all sand, and without this foundation nothing but scrub grows.

I watered them dutifully during the hot months, and the dry months. And wouldn’t you know it, the day I took my first really long walk after having the flu (with that heavy pack for 6 miles) the trees each sprouted new leaves. All of them.

I knew that my diligence in both the trees, and preparing myself for this event would pay off. Part of the course we teach (Navigating Adversity) involves multiple pillars of individual strengths that we draw on to be resilient. 

I drew on those strengths: I was financially secure and could afford the entry fee. I was spiritually ready, as I have a good relationship with God. I was emotionally ready, for I knew even if I failed at the event itself, making the attempt would be good for me. I was marginally physically ready, but the underlying work I’d done would help compensate for missing a month of training right before the race. I set out the tools for race day, and brought high energy to breakfast (the traditional Milky Way bars, which have not failed me for decades). I carried GU energy gels to scarf every two miles, and two liters of Pedialite to drink in addition to the water stops. 

The race started out just after dawn, 0700. I had forsaken the heavy pack, and instead wore a five pound fanny pack. About 140 people at the starting line. Within six blocks I could no longer see any of them, and it became my race against myself. I haven’t “run” since 1995 when I got a new steel rod in my leg and dislocated my foot – can’t take the impact. But I can walk. and I set out to do just that for 13.1 miles. 

By the time I hit the long straightaway at the three mile mark, it was 80 degrees, very sunny, and no shade. It was 3.5 miles out and 3.5 miles back from that point. Like most out-and-back races, I had no idea where the turn was, and in fact it was over what passes for a hill around here at a bend in the road. But I wasn’t going to quit. I just kept marching along. I’m a tough old moron and stubborn.

Four hours and 52 minutes after I started the race, I crossed the finish line. I was dehydrated in spite of my best efforts, and the blisters had kicked in at mile 10. But I finished. All by myself, dead last in the 1/2 marathon race, I finished.

And so, not only do the trees have new leaves, but I have a new finisher’s medal from the Ave Maria half-marathon.

Now it’s time for the small rewards you get with a milestone. I’ll be doing that this week. But the moral of the story is that even when disease, work interruptions, depression, and hot weather (or freezing weather for the trees) hammer on you, if you have the foundation for survival and resilience, you can claw your way back to the finish line. You might smell bad (I sure did) and they may have to mail your medal out to you (they ran out and I borrowed this from another finisher for the photo) a month later, but you can make it through to the other side. 

It is possible. But you have to do the work ahead of time that lets you bounce back from a bad season. I don’t just teach the material, I live the philosophy. It works. 

Now, what was the first reward? A steak dinner with appetizers, giant ribeye, potato with fixings, a green salad, a strawberry shortcake desert and coffee. 

The next reward is somewhere in a local shop: just gotta find the right model!

Be well. Work on your resilience. I hope nothing but the best for all of you.

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