People frequently ask me for tips on how to start running. The first thing I always say to them, the one tip that I think is far more important than any other, is that they need to maintain consistency. Bouts of intensive running followed by lapses without any running at all do not produce a healthy, happy and successful runner. Running is difficult in the beginning, for some people very difficult. Joints hurt, muscles ache, lungs and heart are taxed. But after a while, as long as a person doesn’t run too much too fast too soon, the body adapts to the running and slowly improves in efficiency and efficacy. The best runners I know do have peak seasons and off seasons. But they never completely stop running. If they were accustomed to running 30 miles a week, they might cut back to 18. If they ran 6 times a week, during the off season they run 3 times a week. But they don’t quit. And whenever they do take some rest, they always have in mind how they will use that rest to come back to running stronger than ever.
The sad fact is that it is easier for us to lose fitness than build fitness. It is easier to gain weight than it is to lose weight. And the sad fact of life is that it is usually easier to tear something down than it is to build it up. One can work steadily for years to plant and cultivate a forest, only to watch fire consume it in seconds. One can build up a friendship for an entire lifetime, just to have it torn apart by one nasty incident. And one can build an entire life based on righteousness only to have it irreparably stained by one indecent act.
Indeed, Judaism itself is an institution that has been cultivated for thousands of years, meticulously built by generations of leaders and followers. I often think of what it must have been like for the rabbis trying to teach Jews their particular approach to Torah study and observance after the destruction of the Second Temple.They did not have immediate success. It took many generations for their vision to become the dominant form of Judaism. But a generation of disuse and it can all be forgotten. On Shabbat we hosted a friend who grew up in Russia. She told us how the Russian government forbade religion, and basically people just forgot about it within one generation. Even today, when people are free to worship as they wish in Russia, most do not identify with any religion whatsoever.
I learn a lot of lessons from running. But this might be the most powerful of all: consistency matters, because it is far easier to tear something down than it is to build it back up. We should always strive to be builders and even when we do tear down, it should always be “al menat letaken” in order to fix. Taking a day off of running makes me stronger because it is “al menat letaken.” I hope that this is the way I live my life. Whenever I destroy something, whether it is a part of myself that I’ve given up, a part of my community or a part of my world, I hope it is always only “letaken.” Anything other than that is just a simple loss.