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I’ve recently found myself struggling to maintain momentum on the backstretch of this race called life. Of course, this is a figurative place not a real one because I haven’t picked up running shoes in, um, a long time. Except when moving my youngest son’s stinky track shoes out of the way and that unfortunately doesn’t count. My Fitbit says I walk my 10,000 steps most days, but actually running on purpose for exercise hasn’t happened in forever. ‘Nuff said.
With two sons participating in track this year, I’ve been paying attention to something I forgot: the lonely backstretch during a race. Even during the 400-meter, there’s a period of silence between the energy of the start as the gun goes off and the roar of the crowd as runners find an extra kick toward the finish line. And when the race is multiple laps long, the lonely middle can feel like an eternity. (Even if I don’t run now, I used to run the mile and two-mile in high school so I know a little bit about the subject. Just don’t ask for my times…)
On the backstretch–that lonely stretch of track far away from the crowd–it’s just the runner and their competition. And if you’re extra slow like me, it’s just you, by yourself, getting passed by the faster people. So how does a runner keep their momentum and keep putting one foot in front of the other? By finding an internal rhythm or steady pace while often visually focusing on the next place to reach like a discarded hurdle off to the side or the upcoming curve or even closing the gap to the runner ahead of them. Breathe in-two-three and out-two-three-four. In-two-three and out-two-three-four with a footstep per count.
Right now, I’m in the long and lonely middle of a book manuscript so instead of putting one foot in front of the other, I’m stringing one word or sentence after the next. Instead of watching the seconds add up on my watch, I’m watching the total word count climb. Instead of counting down the laps to go, I’m counting scenes and chapters. It gets tough out there, especially when other writers are zipping past you to awards and multi-book contracts.
I’ll admit, I’ve stopped and walked for a bit. Contemplated the purpose of the race. Questioned whether I should try a different length race instead. Struggled with the notion that maybe it’s okay to write stories that need lots of editing as long as I get them out of my head, because finishing the race is as important as starting it.
With this backstretch demanding every ounce of internal motivation I can find before I lose all of my momentum, I’m also focusing on the next small victory and giving myself incentives to keep on going. Finish this scene? Get a short reading break. Finish the chapter? Some chocolate awaits. Get another chunk of chapters done? Chick-flik movie night. And so on.
But that’s just me and my computer with no one watching. However, the best motivation on the backstretch comes from others. Like the coach who jogs alongside hollering out split times and encouraging you to pick up the pace. Or the few teammates who wander around the infield, notice you passing by, and cheer a little.
That’s why I’m really glad for the occasional fan or friend who takes pity on this lonely writer and shouts out a positive review on Amazon or sends an email just to say they’re thinking of me and can’t wait to read this story. Some days that extra boost is all I need to just sit down and get this story out of my head until I can look up and see the finish line ahead.
What about you? When you’re pursuing a goal, do you ever get bogged down on the backstretch? How do you find the motivation to keep your momentum going? Or are you one who has a hard time finishing what you start?