Friday, November 20, 2009

Defeat That I Can Live With

I finished my third marathon about a month ago, in record slowness.
Yes, I know, I still ran a marathon, and yes, I raised a heap of money for cancer research and those are wonderful things, both. So you don’t need to remind me to stop beating myself up, because I’m not singing that song. I’m just saying, after finishing those 26.2 miles at an average pace of about 13 minutes per mile, I got dusted by some speed walkers…no joke.

In Chicago this year, my legs and feet screamed for the last five miles. And not “screamed” in the way that the Kenyans scream around the course, I mean “scream” in the way that someone who’s in a lot of pain screams. Like a little girl. But the little girls lapped me too.

Maybe the marathon isn’t my event. After all, I have the density of wet Georgia clay. If gravity went away all of a sudden, I would be waving bye to all y’all as my big ass stayed pegged to the earth.

When I got all excited about marathons three years ago, I also took on this notion that one day I would complete a 100-mile ultramarathon by the time I turned 50.

I’m really rethinking that now. That’s an extra 73.8 miles of ouch. All at once.

You see, when I get something new in my head, I jump in rather untethered. I tend to take things quickly past the point of reason and set of goal of the absurd. On some level, I suppose the marathon was absurd. But I was able to get away with it. And, each time, completing the event was a special, deep, emotionally, spiritually, physically enriching experience. So, it was natural to think that completing 100 miles in one shot would be roughly four times as enriching, right?

I guess the thing I failed to consider is that finishing 100 miles is infinitely more than four times as painful…as I have learned by reading the accounts of many people who have finished a 100-miler.

Oh, and I have a toddler. And a marriage. And a job.

Am I quitting?

You’re damn right. For me, continuing to run marathons, not to mention ultramarathons, makes no sense. Too much time, too much pain.

And – the most important thing – there’s too much “new” out there that I’ve yet to experience. And I don’t need to keep myself from those wonders by keeping myself shackled to something that no longer makes sense to me. See, the freeing lesson that I am learning is that ridiculous goal-setting is OK. Actually, it’s great. And it’s absolutely OK to revisit those lofty goals and say, “you know what, this is not where I’m headed right now. I am going to shift direction.”

Doing that – admitting defeat, as it were – used to be a crushing experience for me. Another reason to tell myself what a failure I am (another “goal” that I am also choosing to abandon). But no longer. I am changing course without a look back. So, I’m not going to do a 100-mile run. But, hey, check this out: I finished three freakin’ marathons and, in the process of doing so, raised $14,000 for the fight against cancer. And I’ve got one hell of a set of healthy lungs to show for all my troubles.

I can live with that kind of defeat.