Walking the Walk: Adjusting Your Goals to Persevere!

I’m waking up with my head in a fog and my legs feeling like they’ve been tasered.  It’s been a while since I’ve had to mentally and physically show up so strongly for a race.  Yesterday was that day. From severe disappointment when the race started 45 minutes late due to thunderstorms (I’m always hoping for cooler temps), to having my foot give out at mile 10, I had a series of challenges early on in the race that led me to question whether I was even going to ‘finish’ let alone catch a time I could be proud of.  I try to keep a mindset that ‘it will be what it will be, focus on the effort not the outcome.’ It turns out holding to that mindset (basically walking the walk) is a completely different animal than merely understanding it, saying it, and hopefully never ever having to see it show up at your front door.

Now in all honesty I know this.  I have walked the walk in many races, as well as in my daily life.  I also know the golden rule: you never really know when your resilience is going to be tested.  I’ve had very difficult races before (difficult meaning longer distances I haven’t done before, difficult terrain I never faced before, terrible weather I’ve never seen before).  I have had races where I thought there was a great possibility I wouldn’t finish. The thing about this race, it was a marathon!

It’s not that marathons are easy; they are certainly not.  Probably the least favorite distance of mine for sure (it’s where trying to get a pace, meets real distance), and if you push in them and miss, they can be grueling.  But I had a good deal of familiarity with them. I had done plenty of them, and, only once, back in 1995 (my first marathon in Boston) did I ever think that not finishing was a real possibility.

After the late start at the Burlington Marathon yesterday (a delay that was very annoying because it meant a longer time in the heat of the day), the horn went off and I was flying on my first few miles, relatively effortlessly (meaning my heart rate was in good shape) trying to catch mile times that I could ‘bank’ and have for a cushion in my later miles when it would be warmer. When I was turning the corner on mile 10, high fiving a child handing me water from his stand, a searing pain shot from the bottom of my foot half-way up my leg!  I actually stopped for a moment and quickly took off my shoe. I had to have stepped on something!

Nothing there.  Maybe if I just ran with the pain for a few miles it would right itself (it had happened in more than a few ultras). Well, for the next three miles I looked more like a man stepping on a hot coal every other step than an actual runner.  But I was able to get to the 1/2 marathon point at a relatively decent time (I had banked all that time in the earlier miles).

I watched the 3:15 pacer with all his runners fade out of sight.  I felt this huge disappointment and goal-lessness start to creep in.  Yes, I had a pyramid goal. I had written it down. My race pyramid goals always start with me just finishing.  But then they build. This time the top of my pyramid was to qualify for the Boston Marathon. In truth, if I was really honest with myself, that was all I could ‘see’ when I looked the pyramid goals I had written down.  It sat there at the top all tantalizing and full of promise. I wanted to qualify for Boston, that’s what my sights were set on. Yes, if I missed, I would be disappointed, but, in my mind’s eye, missing it meant maybe 5 -10 minutes.

This was something way different.  I was 13.2 miles away from even finishing!  My foot felt like it was on fire, and running had turned into an Igor sort of movement.  I really didn’t know what was going on with my body. The emotional gremlins surged in the moment I took a time out on the curb to adjust my shoe, and offered their unsolicited suggestions…

Gremlin: You’ve missed qualifying for Boston, that was what you were looking for. why don’t you just call it a day and get your foot checked out before you cause real damage?

Me: I can’t believe this is happening at mile 10!

Gremlin: Right?  You’ve done plenty of these, many brilliantly.  We both know you were out here to qualify, there’s no other reason for you to do a marathon.

Me: I have other goals within this race –

Gremlin: Come on… where’s the challenge?  You’ve done the distance many times.  This is just walking and running in pain for what could be hours, for what?

Me: Maybe I can set another goal while I –

Gremlin: It’s another 13 miles on that foot and you don’t even know what’s wrong.  Who is this for anyway?

Then it hit me.  It’s why I set pyramid goals in the first place!

Me: It’s for me. And if it’s for me, then there was a boat load of goals I had for this race that I could turn to.  To learn perseverance. To practice resilience regardless of the outcome. To deal with setbacks, learn and move forward.  To practice detachment from the outcome and allow the effort to be what it would be.

Gremlin: I don’t think that’s what I –

Me: I can refocus and bank a lot of knowledge on how to persevere in my next race.  As for time, I can set a goal to not break the four-hour mark.

Gremlin: You’re going to be uncomfortable the whole –

Me:  …and I’m really not looking forward to the pain.  You are more than welcome to come along. Bring Uncertainty, Doubt, and Fear along if you want.  You’re always welcome, because you are part of me. But KNOW you don’t get a vote. This IS getting done.

I got up from the curb. It wasn’t pretty, but I got up.  I’d like to tell you that I had this new, amazingly positive take on the whole situation.  That I was full tilt and brimming with excitement to take on this new challenge of finishing in under 4 hours.  That Rocky music belted out while I was about to undertake my grueling hike/run. None of those things happened.  What I did feel was a solidified resolve and pain-heightened focus to giving all of my energy to the task at hand. The outcome would be what it would be.  My satisfaction and pride would come from my effort as I walked the walk (literally 😉).