Thursday, December 10, 2009

Racing and Placing

As I reflect back 2008 proved to be an interesting year. The election of an African American president, the near collapse of the financial system, five dollar plus per gallon fuel just to name a few. In my mind it became the “the year of firsts.” The year also brought many firsts on a personal level. Increased professional responsibility, my youngest daughter started kindergarten, and in spite of my better judgment, my commitment to return to the marathon.

My plan was very simple: to run a 1:30 half marathon. I thought a series of races would be necessary to achieve my then lofty goal, so I intended to knock them out as a 1:50, 1:40, and finally the 90 minute half. After proving to myself that I could run a respectable half marathon I would begin my assault on the full. The way I figured it, it would take me well into 2009.

As fate would have it I missed my initial 1:50 attempt in February by less than one minute (refer to my “Running in the Rain” post). I met the first goal a few months later on a tougher course, a personal best and redemption on my first attempt. In my third half marathon still in the first half of the year with a goal of 1:40 I tried a different strategy. Instead of getting beat-up on a hilly course I would run a fast course and take advantage of the downhill portions. At each mile marker I ran my personal best and held the sub 7 minute pace the entire race. I knocked off my fastest 5K, 10K and crossed the finish line with a 1:30. With this premature triumph and all three goals met, do I take off the rest of the year or do I do something I hadn’t done for quite some time - run for fun?

I decided to try and continue training hard without a specific race in mind. No set distance, no race date. Just two or three quality runs a week along with a few base runs. On a whim at the last minute I entered a 5k and to my surprise I managed to take 4th. More of a surprise was that the race gave awards five deep. My first time on the podium is one I’ll never forget. As others callously accepted their award I let out a burst of excitement and my best triumphant pose after receiving my award. The crowd loved it. I raced another last minute 5k in late summer, a small local benefit race and placed second. For the first time I began to think about placing, and also possibly winning a race.

Hitting an annual goal in the first half of the year and making the decision to “run for fun” the rest of the year opened the door to things I had not yet imagined. I would not have found these experiences if I was still focused the entire year on running a half marathon. That first seemingly insignificant and unexpected 5K that put me on the stage has forever changed my running. And I realize, isn’t that how life works? Our best thought out plans and goals are necessary tools, but not an end point. Instead of taking us where we think we need to go, sometimes they take us in the direction we should be heading. Without our contrived, yet well-intentioned goals, we may not create the opportunity to find out where we need to be.

So now the real question remains: should I succumb to shorter distances and admit that perhaps the marathon is not my forte or continue to wage my personal war with the full marathon again? I don’t yet know. But rest assured I’ll be pondering that concept on my next long run...

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Being is Believing

This time of year we tend to reflect inward. A self-assessment to gain understanding and insight into who we are and more importantly who we want to be. I realize January has almost passed and I have yet to formalize my goals. Maybe it is not the most interesting task on my to-do list, yet perhaps it is the most necessary.

Experience has taught me that it is very difficult to achieve goals that I have not defined. And I’ve also learned that almost all aspects in our life that are significant require goals. I remember when a previous employer asked me what was my five year goal? At that very moment I realized from his reaction that my standby answer “to make more money and have a better position” sounded as absurd to hear as it felt to say. In a same way “to run faster and farther this year” as my running goal sounds equally absurd.

I have come to realize the significance and importance of having clearly defined goals. How aggressively you set them should depend on how you feel about both meeting – and not meeting them. Personally I feel better when I set realistic goals that are aggressive and not met, than setting goals that are more practical and often too easily met. We all need to decide how we feel about our personal successes and failures prior to formalizing our goals.

With all that said my running goal for 2009 is simple: qualify for Boston. I realize that it will require first and foremost a serious commitment. Building the kind of mileage I need to log to handle a full marathon at essentially a tempo run pace will not only require my time, but it will effect other people in my life as well. Out of fairness I should at least give them a head’s up and ask for their support prior to making my commitment.

It will also require that I remain injury free. Much of that comes down to hard, intelligent training, and possibly a little bit of luck.

But most of all it will involve the determination to push hard late in the race. Not giving in to those fleeting moments of sel-doubt when the thought of giving in to the pain of pushing the pace sets in. Or the running rationalization that occurs on most twenty mile training runs that tempts me to head back at sixteen miles, or whatever mile marker the running begins to really get interesting, with the promise to myself of “making it up next week.”

Of all the potential obstacles, this is the one that concerns me the most. The one that only exists in my mind. Not the time needed to get in the miles, or the strain it may put on my personal relationships. And forget for a moment that dropping an additional 35 minutes off my marathon personal best may not even be physically possible. It is not a question of commitment, or how much I want it, but a question of what am I willing to endure to in order to reach my goal.

Somewhere down deep inside, I believe I can. I feel it. And believing you can accomplish your goal is the most important step toward achieving it.