Life is a Fartlek
Steve Prefontaine was an iconic road racer in the 1970’s. His death in a May 1975 car crash is one of the great tragedies in the history of American sports, and the bravura performance that was his life created an inspirational cottage industry that’s going strong four decades later. Every mildly serious American runner has, at some point, encountered it. “Without Limits” is a great movie depicting his life and tenacity as a runner. Two of his most iconic quotes are:
“The only good pace is a suicide pace, and today looks like a good day to die.”
“A lot of people run a race to see who is fastest. I run to see who has the most guts, who can punish himself into exhausting pace, and then at the end, punish himself even more.”
To Pre, as he was affectionately known, life was a sprint. It had to be.
The saying “Life is a marathon not a sprint” is only partially true. Life generally plays out in long slow strides. However, there are sprints in life like meeting a boss’ deadline and generally staying on top of family activities, especially if you have young children. But I agree that life is mostly a marathon with sprints interjected here and there along the course. That’s why I think a better metaphor for life is a “fartlek”. Unless you are a competitive runner, you might not be familiar with this awful sounding word, so here is the Wikipedia definition:
Fartlek, which means “speed play” in Swedish, is a training method that blends continuous training with interval training. Fartlek runs are a very simple form of a long-distance run. Fartlek training “is simply defined as periods of fast running intermixed with periods of slower running.
The other thing you need to know about a fartlek is that it is meant to be fun as in its definition (speed PLAY). It is meant to break up the monotony of a L-O-N-G run by interjecting periodic bursts of accelerated energy. It is kind of like life, isn’t it?
There are fast trackers such as Pre who zoomed through life both on and off the race course. Tragically, Prefontaine didn’t live to see his 25th birthday. Neither did actor James Dean, also a fast tracker who is remembered as a cultural icon of teenage disillusionment and social estrangement who also tragically died in a car accident in September 1955. None of us knows when we will breathe our last breath, and sometimes we live like we are running against time.
For much of my 20’s, 30’s and 40’s I was living a race against time to grow up and move on with life. And I did. Especially in the area of raising my children. I got married at 21, had two daughters by the time I was 24, and before I knew it life ran by me and I was an empty nester at 43. I was there, but I often blew by the simple everyday experiences of life, and I was too uptight about insignificant things.
At 66, I have slowed way down especially in regards to my family. I cherish each and every moment I have with my now five-year-old granddaughter, and for whatever growing up experiences I blew by the first time around, I am learning to slow down and savor each moment I have with her. Like helping her learn to ride her new Butterfly bike.
Sometimes I wish that life wasn’t so busy and complex, but the only place to totally avoid busyness and complexity is the grave, and that’s not where I want to be.
The following is a great article from Experience Life titled “What’s the Rush”. Its main thesis is, “Even when there’s a lot to do, it’s still possible to stop racing through life.”
And the song “Slow Down” by Nichole Nordeman says it all.
Enjoy the fartlek!