“Then all of a sudden she stopped with a jerk. She simply could not go another inch. She tried and she tried, but her wheels would not turn.” ~ From The Little Engine That Could
“The best way out is always through.” — Robert Frost
A few years ago I saw an advertisement for an event not far from my house — an annual program of firewalking.
I had secretly always wanted to try it. Not only had I seen The Office and Pam’s revelation moment when she got up the courage to walk on fire, but the idea seemed so empowering.
I texted my boyfriend; “Wanna go?” and forwarded the link. “YES!” he replied. So we registered.
When the day came, it was an unusually chilly day in early September. Typically we are still feeling the last remnants of summer with somewhat cooler nights, but this particular day it was pretty cold.
Pulling up to the large grassy field, we saw stacks of wood piled in three groupings and rows of chairs facing a concrete staging area. Sitting down my boyfriend and I made a few snarky remarks to each other about the whole event. We were both excited and skeptical of the entire thing. I shivered and pulled my jacket closer to me, scooting in so that I could feel his body heat.
When the speaker began, it felt like an MLM speech (multi-level marketing). It was apparently supposed to motivate and inspire us but it seemed to come across a little let me sell you this snake oil-ish.
First there was the opportunity to walk on glass. The speaker scattered out some broken glass and a woman from the audience got up and walked on it, not cutting her feet at all. Several more people lined up to do the same. Next, they laid out a layer of wooden boards for people to yell out a personal mantra and then break the stacked pieces with their hands. This worked for some, not for others. The program leader assured us that they just needed to focus more on the mantra.
Next, the speaker showed us a thin, long, wooden rod and demonstrated how he could put it against each person’s throat and the volunteer should just think of a fear, shout out the mantra and walk inward, breaking the rod in two.
I glanced at my boyfriend and we rolled our eyes. What had we signed up for?
Finally the wood had been burned down and it was time to walk. The speaker cautioned us again to yell out our mantra and really focus. My boyfriend went ahead and I followed, neither of us shouting any mantra. I took three or four steps when I felt a hot coal searing my foot.
Now what? I can’t JUST STOP. I couldn’t jump to the side — there was fire on either side. I simply HAD to keep walking. Period.
I picked up my pace as I felt my feet burning. Finally, walking what felt like a damn football field, I was done. My boyfriend caught me at the end as I relished in the cold wet grass.
“Pretty cool, right?” he asked, holding my hands.
“No, I burned my feet.”
Later that night he went to the pharmacy and bought me some burn ointment. I had huge blisters on the soles of my feet for weeks and it hurt to walk. My boyfriend didn’t even have a red mark on his.
This story came to mind recently. Not only is it about five years ago to the day that we did that firewalk, but I am feeling a little like I did when I was four steps into the hot coals and wanting to quit.
I have another competition coming up — 19 days out to be exact. I have been in a deficit since January and the cardio is sitting at 55 minutes a day, five days a week, 35 minutes on other days. I’m tired, I’m hungry, I am feeling completely worn.
Last week I was feeling a ton of cravings for things I don’t normally crave — doughnuts, chocolate, cream cheese. I want to do well — scratch that, I want to do better than I did for my first show but I’m just so tired.
I haven’t given in (although I have slipped in a couple of chocolate chips — untracked) and I have stuck to my cardio and gym program. But I glance over at my heels and just want to go get a chocolate cake already.
I stopped at a Half Price Books shop last week and as I was perusing the fitness section a title popped out: The Little Black Book of Workout Motivation by Michael Matthews. In it he gives examples of poeple who have overcome odds to succeed.
He talks about Arnold Schwarzenegger and his early beginnings of being told he would never be competitive as a bodybuilder and even laughed at by his own father. He talks about Elon Musk and how he started his SpaceX beginnings when he didn’t know a thing about space travel. He remarks that the famous Michaelangelo didn’t have his “big break” until he was 46 years old and that James Joyce spent 20,000 hours writing Ulysses.
Matthews goes on to explain:
“We scorn workaholism and love stories of mysterious prodigies, who accomplish great things with effortless grace. We thrill when Matt Damon’s charcater in Good Will Hunting scoffs at mathematical proofs that have stumped the brightest minds at MIT. We jeer when captains of industry ascribe their success to sweat, blood and toil and we dream of maybe one day stumbling into our own latent superpowers that will put us on the fast track to fame and fortune. As much as we might want to believe this tale, it’s simply not true.”
So I am here in the middle of a row of hot coals and I could try to go back, I could try to jump the fire, but we all know that the best way is through — burned feet and all.
So I keep going.
I can do this. I can keep going. I want to keep going.
And I can be tired. Maybe I’ll get some chocolate cake and the end of the line.