I ran my first full marathon this past December 11 after having talked about doing one for nearly a decade. For weeks before it started, I kept saying that my only goal was to finish stronger than I started which meant I would have to start quite slow, to begin easy.
The day before the race, a collector came into the gallery to buy a Christmas present for his wife. Turns out he’d run a couple of marathons before and we started chatting. Start slow, he cautioned. Don’t let the adrenaline get you in the beginning. Yep, I know, I said. I plan to finish stronger than I start. And then he told me to look for someone about my speed to run with. It would make it so much easier.
I tucked all this good advice, this noble goal, away in my running belt with three strawberry banana gels and then proceeded to ignore it the second the race began.
I felt so good, and I started far faster than I’d trained. I started fantasizing about how much faster I’d run the actual race than I’d run all my other training runs. And then, about half way in, I got a pain in my glute I couldn’t shake. The finish line seemed an eternity away. I had been running alone, and far too fast. My strong pace came to a crawl.
Eventually, around mile 21, I found a slow-and-steady runner and said, “Hey. I’m really struggling. Can I run with you for a while?” He happily agreed and even though I’m usually against it, we made the most glorious small talk for the next few, incredibly slow miles.
I didn’t think I’d ever see the finish line. “You’re almost there” was the most meaningless phrase I’d ever heard uttered. The last two miles might as well have been fifty. Everything hurt. But eventually it came. And my eleven year old was right there waiting to run the last few strides with me and give me the best hug I’ve ever had once I’d crossed the line.
And here we are on Day 1 of the 2024 31 in 31. When I went to my studio to paint I was full of adrenaline, expectation, hopes for glory, and deja vu. This is a marathon, I told myself. You have to run each mile, one at a time. There’s no skipping ahead. If you start too ambitious, you just might crash halfway through. You know what to do, I reminded myself. Start small. Ease your way in. And when the 4×4 inch hummingbird painting I was working on turned into a hot mess disaster and then the next painting I tried wasn’t getting any better with every belabored stroke, I took a deep breath and began again. It’s a long road ahead. I may as well start practicing patience now.
I settled on this image for day 1 because this 31 day practice is a journey. I’ve been on it enough times to know that it won’t go exactly as I plan. That difficulties will arise. That I’ll experience both joy and frustration and I’ll, hopefully, navigate through them both if not with ease, then with steadiness, with the company of others whose paths I know I’ll cross.
So here’s my slow beginning. My hope that the end might just be stronger than the beginning. That the ease I’m searching for will in fact arrive.
Happy new year, friends. Enjoy the journey.
** I’m doing something a little different this year. I’ll post each painting at (or close to) 10 am each day this month and they will be available for purchase on my site. However, the pieces will not be shipped out or available for pick up until February 26, after the run of the gallery show.
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Written by Denise Hopkins
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