Battling inner (speed) demons
We humans are a curious bunch. We think we know what we want; in fact we know we know what we want. Yet we never learn, on any level other than an intellectual one, that we actually have no idea what we want.
If you ever been really hungover, you know the feeling. When you courageously declare, to yourself or aloud, that you’re never drinking again, you mean it. You’re in such an intensely miserable state, your desire for a cocktail so completely satiated by the previous night’s overindulgence, that you can’t even fathom wanting to suck down another one. Ever. And even though you know that you’ve felt this before and have said this before, this time it’s different. Right.
As I’ve discovered, running and getting bed-spinningly sloshed aren’t so different. When, after seven years of trying, I finally qualified for Boston last October, there was the obvious, immediate, intoxicating satisfaction. As I collapsed in the grass after crossing the finish line, the pain of the previous three hours, nine minutes, fifty-nine seconds—and, for that matter, of six months of the hardest training I’d ever done—became a distant memory.
But in the subsequent days, amidst painful shuffling around the house and grumbling like an old man, I was able to see more clearly the mountain of work behind the accomplishment—and along with it, the realization that this work had resulted in my achieving my goal by exactly one minute. One minute out of 190 minutes, a whopping half a percent margin of error. With a sense of relief and a pair of lead weights for legs, I told myself I was done with running fast.
I planned, instead, to run ultras. To slow down, learn to run trails, join the often alluded-to “drinking group with a running problem,” and enjoy running in a way I never had. And I did. Then for New Year’s, I resolved to run a 50-miler, a distance nearly twice as far as I had ever run in my life, and (for me) an inspiring goal if there ever was one.
That inspiring goal sufficed for about three weeks. In my post-qualifying contentment, I had been so sure I didn’t want to run fast anymore—that a three-hour marathon, even if achievable, would only come at a price beyond what I was willing to pay. And yet, seemingly from the day I made my 50-mile goal official, the insatiable urge to go faster started quietly reminding me that it hadn’t died. After three months of long, slow distance, the track and the stopwatch are calling again.
Like so many happy hours that have derailed my well-intentioned plans of never drinking again after a real humdinger, the pull of a three-hour marathon has ruined my idea of a training-relaxed 2010. (Now it’s a 50-miler AND a three-hour marathon.)
Is it the right decision? Is it smart to take on another goal when one already has a seemingly good one? Really, it doesn’t matter much; I don’t feel like I have a choice. Running, for me, is a means of achieving things that feel impossible, the goals that never feel “smart” when y0u take them on. And this one certainly fits the bill.