Endless Improvement and Other Myths and Idolatries

I recently began the Couch to 5K program. It’s been a great experience, even though I wasn’t exactly starting from Couch—I’ve been walking 3-5 times a week for over a year. I also don’t have much interest in a 5K—I’m climbing Mt. Washington this summer with family, and would like to do so without a) injury, b) wheezing embarrassment, or c) death. But I wasn’t able to find a Couch to Mt. Washington program, so this will have to do.

The c25k app I use makes everything a no-brainer—load your own music onto the app’s playlist, stick in your earbuds, and follow the verbal instructions, delivered in that Kindle text-t0-speech voice: “Warm-up,” “Run,” “Walk,” and my current favorite phrase in the English language, “Cool down.”

The app also includes a journal for jotting down notes, and there are several line graphs where you can view your progress in several areas, including distance traveled, average run pace, and average walk pace.

I wrote last week about Youngstown, Ohio and how they’ve decided to give up on the fundamental assumption of our economy: that a city (or a company, or a church?) should always be growing. I thought about that post again this morning, as I saw my line graph for “distance traveled” dip lower than it’s been since I started c25k four weeks ago. Apparently I’m normally slow as molasses, but today I was slower than peanut butter.

I felt pretty discouraged that I was losing ground on distance, and therefore on run and walk pace. After four weeks of seeing the line go up and up, or at least stay the same, today was a decent-sized dip, and I was bummed. I am not a born runner, and I began to consider the possibility (nay, likelihood) that I would hit a ceiling and no longer be on an upward trajectory of performance.

I guess I’ve bought into the idea of endless growth and improvement more than I’d thought.

On the other hand, this week’s program represents a major jump in ratio of running to walking. The 32-minute workout includes 16 minutes of running, in 2.5 and 5 minute increments. By contrast, last week’s workout involved only 9 minutes of running, with increments no longer than 3 minutes. It makes sense—in my quest for endurance, I slowed down considerably. It will probably take me a while to get back to where I was… and heck, maybe I never will! And I’ve decided to be OK with that.

This is harder than you might think.

Can I get an Amen?

I remembered receiving Caroline’s last report card. Caroline is a bright child, about whom I worry very little. The report card had nothing to worry about, really. Intellectually, I knew this. But I felt that expectation of endless growth and improvement heavy in the pit of my stomach when I saw that she had stayed the same or improved in every category except for one. She had slipped… in writing.

Way to hit me where it hurts, universe…

After sending a message to her teacher later that week to make sure there wasn’t something obvious we could do to encourage her (there was, but her teacher wasn’t worried about her progress), I remembered back to the baby and toddler years with our kids. It was common for them to regress in one area while they were making a developmental leap in another. Their sleep schedule would go to hell; meanwhile they’d bust out with complete sentences. Or they’d get very clumsy and trippy, but suddenly grow by leaps and bounds in terms of emotional intelligence and empathy.

So perhaps Caroline’s writing took a back seat to other developmental changes.

And maybe I run as slow as peanut butter, but I keep going for 16 minutes.

And maybe that’s OK.

Great, even.


Image: How can you not love that pink stripe? Makes 6 a.m. a lot less dreadful.


2 thoughts on “Endless Improvement and Other Myths and Idolatries

  1. slow as peanut butter beats concrete anyday. I remember once hearing that if you switched from regular Coke to Diet Coke you could lose 10lbs a month without even noticing. I told my husband the great news and he said “for how long?” What? “How long would you continue to lose 10 lbs,? Until you wasted away?” I feel the same way about endless progress…it is about practicing the presence, about climbing the mountain, not the endless victory over victory…I guess it is the grace upon grace.

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