An ugly 12-letter word: perseverance

Altorfer_bioI’ve been thinking a lot about perseverance lately. It can be a hauntingly ugly, nasty 12-letter word. The noun is officially defined as “steady persistence in a course of action, a purpose, a state, etc., especially in spite of difficulties, obstacles, or discouragement.” Well, that about sums up my experiences with it in the past three weeks.

The word is constantly on my mind lately, due in large part to the fact that I’m spending more time than usual on the treadmill at the gym, staring off into space as my feet repeatedly pound the electronic running mat and I struggle to learn any of the lyrics on Lady Gaga‘s album that is blaring through my iPod. Sounds torturous? Indeed.

About a month ago I wrote to several friends encouraging us to begin training for the seven mile CR Run the Flood race, to be held June 12 (the two-year anniversary of the devastating June 2008 flood). It’s running for a good cause, and I figured we could all use a little motivation as February arrived and we were feeling Vitamin D deficient and endorphin starved. I figured “safety in numbers” would be a good plan. If we all trained together, it’d be easier to complete the race. But, I forgot one thing: running is an individual activity.

So I started “training” a few weeks ago, working my way up from one mile to two miles to three miles…you get the point. This is more running than I’ve done in several years (10, maybe?) and it’s hard work. As men’s and women’s cross country and track coach Ryan Scheckel ’01 told me, “It’s all in your head, at some point it isn’t physical anymore.” Thus, the reason that perseverance is running through my head (pun intended).

In college two of my close friends, Arja and Jess, trained for a half marathon (13.1 miles). I can remember leaving for golf practice and they’d already have left for their training run, which wound them around the river valley of southern Minnesota and up the rolling hills past cornfields and bean farms. I’d return three hours later and they’d still be gone. And I thought golf was a time-intensive sport… But I admired them for their perseverance and persistence then, and I especially admire them for it now. As I seek to complete a little more than half of the mileage they did that spring of 2001, I hold them in awe. I was proud when I watched them cross the finish line on that chilly morning in small town New Prague, Minnesota, but until now I couldn’t really relate.

Running gives you a lot of time to think (maybe too much). My colleagues and I are in a race of perseverance with the Mount Mercy Magazine right now, too. We are so close to finishing the Spring 2010 issue, which we’ve been working on since late October. This week we are receiving layouts of sections from our superb graphic design guru, Robyn Hepker. We ferry changes and questions back and forth with her, waiting for the point at which all the pages have been reviewed and given our stamp of approval. The next step is a full mock-up of the magazine, signaling the beginning of the proofing process outside the Office of Communications & Marketing. This is where we know that our perseverance will be tested. Our words will be weighed by other colleagues, hopefully to acclaim. But often we are cajoled to go back to the proverbial drawing board to re-think a lead paragraph or switch out a photo. We want to deliver the finest product we can, but we still repeat to ourselves: “we’re almost there.”

“Almost there” has been my mantra on the treadmill lately, too. Each workout – like each magazine – teaches me something new about myself or shows me something I didn’t think I could do. But I think I prefer writing and editing to running. After all, working on the magazine doesn’t give me shin splints.

Yours in running,