Sunday, December 22, 2013

Goal tending

According to DailyMile, the runners’ version of facebook, I am only 40 miles away from completing 1500 total miles of running for the year 2013. The number 1500 means no more to me than any other milestone-type number that ends pleasingly with a zero, and this isn’t a goal I had ever set out to accomplish, but now that this zero-ending non-goal seems very much within reach, I might just go for it.

Or not. Goals are funny things; even the extremely meaningful goals I’ve set for myself during the course of my life have often ended up seeming about as arbitrary as that 1500 given how little control I had over when or even whether I achieved them.
Let’s see how many of these goal-related references you get: 1) Pyrrhic victory. 2) Sisyphus. 3) EHFAR. Got all three? Awesome; you have an admirable knowledge of ancient history, mythology, and acronyms I’ve made up to represent really stupid sayings. Basically these translate to the following: 1) You achieve your goal but end up finding it a whole lot suckier than your gauzy dreams led you to imagine. 2) Just when you think you’re about to achieve your goal some shitty stuff happens and you have to start all over. 3) You don’t achieve your goal and are forced to utilize all the powers of rationalization you can muster to convince yourself that this is perfectly fine because Everything Happens For A Reason, conveniently ignoring the fact that sometimes the reason is the world is a sucky place where shitty stuff happens.

Some of my fellow DailyMile friends have encouraged me to pursue the 1500, one in particular informing me that one of my local running groups gives free T-shirts to runners who achieve certain mileage milestones, 1500 included. Golly. A free T-shirt, you say? Well, hell, who wouldn’t want another one of those! Another friend took a more relaxed view: go get the 1500 if you want, but if you don’t want it or don’t get it, don’t sweat it. Nothing wrong with, say, 1498.3 miles, and I wouldn’t have to run around the parking lot like an idiot trying to get that last 1.7 in before midnight New Year’s Eve.
No, 1500 is not a special number, nor is 45 (the age I’ll be in just over a week), nor, believe it or not, is one hundred. That last number represents the number of miles that many hard-core ultramarathon runners aspire to complete in a single race. If you aren’t a hard-core ultramarathon runner, that number may seem unthinkable, impossible, and, to quote Princess Bride (because every blog ought to quote Princess Bride once in a while), inconceivable. It was certainly all that to me until about a month ago. I’d just completed my third ultramarathon, and I’d made plans to run my first 50-miler the following May. Fifty was a fine goal, one that seemed reasonably achievable. Naturally, the achievability of this goal made me feel both pleased and dissatisfied at once. If I am reasonably confident I can make this goal, well, sheesh, what’s the point?

Yeah, that’s a pretty messed up way of thinking. I’m not ashamed to admit I’m fairly conventional when it comes to disliking failure. It took me ten years to get my first book published, and even though I succeeded, I’m not going to rewrite history and tell you that the agonizing parts of that ten-year wait were totally worth it in the end. Ends do not justify means, especially when those means turn into a suckfest. What’s more, there were a lot of nonsucky parts of that wait as well, and as the 1500 suggests, goals are largely arbitrary; as such, getting a book published or running an ultramarathon mostly represents a way to pass the time that seems a whole lot more satisfying than most other aspects of day-to-day living.
Given that numbers ending in 5 are almost as quasi-meaningful as those ending in zero, just think about the potent one-two punch of declaring a goal of running a 100-mile ultra at the age of 45. Not that I am actually declaring this, mind you; I haven’t even declared I’m going for 1500, for that matter, T-shirt incentive notwithstanding. Smirk all you want; you don’t know any better than I do how anything’s going to turn out. Pick a number, pick a goal. The number may end in zero, the goal may come with a free T-shirt, but even if neither is true, does it really matter?

But do return to this blog next year to see how I do, won’t you?


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