Thursday, November 27, 2014

You'll thank me later

You know that sound of a needle being ripped across a record on a turntable? Yeah, that one. How is it that anyone under the age of 35 knows what that sound really signifies? Sure, it’s still used in countless hip-hop mixes and radio commercials, but vinyl was about five or six technologies ago. Same thing with using “d-bag” as an insult. Whenever I hear some kid call another “d-bag,” I totally want to stop them and say, dude, do you even know what a d-bag is? I mean, if you think about it, a d-bag is really no more disgusting than, say, dental floss, though I doubt there was ever a commercial where a mother and daughter sat in a rowboat discussing whether they floss or not. And if you understood that one, you’ve probably heard the needle-across-vinyl-on-turntable sound live.

Why am I bringing all this stuff up on Thanksgiving? Wait for it; it’s coming.

I thought about doing a standard “things I am thankful for” post today. It wouldn’t be hard for me to do this, and it wouldn’t be hard for me to be sincere about it. I am thankful for a lot of things. They are mostly the same things on everyone else’s thankful list: good health, good people, a good life. But those words, while sincere and heartfelt, don’t have quite the impact I feel they should, because Thanksgiving has particular and peculiar significance to me that goes beyond turkey and trimmings. See, three years ago on the day before Thanksgiving, I still had a lot to be thankful for, and I knew it, but I didn’t feel it, I didn’t feel anything but terrible, so I tried to end the terrible once and for all.

Cue screeching needle-on-vinyl sound.

Yeah, I know, this is not the most uplifting thing to be talking about on a fun, food-centered holiday when I ought to be salivating over the many tasty forms of carbs to be had. But it happened—or, I should say, it didn’t happen, though not for lack of trying. I lived to see that Thanksgiving and to figure out how the hell I was going to get through my life from that point on.

You can tell a person to be thankful all you want, and sometimes it works, but much of the time—all of the time for certain people like I was then—all it does is make things worse. To be told how much you have to be thankful for, and then to be nudged, scolded, or cajoled for not seeing this, only compounds the problem; now you realize you’re unhappy and an ungrateful d-bag. The truth is, I did see it. I knew I was lucky. I also knew that despite my massive privileges and advantages in life, I somehow couldn’t make any of it do any good, to me or anyone else.

So how did I get out of all that? Here’s the funny thing: by doing exactly the thing everyone tells you to do—count my blessings, feel grateful, be thankful—only no one was forcing me to do it but me. It is possible, at least a little, and sometimes a lot, to will yourself to keep going.

I say this to anyone who happens to be reading and is feeling a little less than thankful, though you hide it behind a seemingly-grateful smile and apparently-thankful words. There’s nothing like forced merriment to make a person feel like absolute crap, but listen, you alone have the power to de-crapify yourself. It’s corny and hokey and doesn’t at all sound like it’s going to work, but it does, or at least it can. How you do it is you’re honest: you say, yeah, I feel like shit. You ask, why do I feel like shit? You say, there are reasons. You admit, there are always reasons, you can always find a reason why you feel lousy; it could be that you’re alone yet again on another major holiday or it could be global climate change. You say, but look, there are also reasons to not feel lousy. It’s not that the one category always outweighs the other; it’s that you acknowledge both but focus on one, and in this case it needs to be the one that will get you through this. You’re not in denial. You’re not pretending everything’s going to be all right. You’re saying, I feel bad. You’re saying, there are things that are good in my life. You’re saying, one may not cancel out the other, but neither should be discounted. I can only see what’s bad right now. I’m going to look at what else there is.

Good health. Good people. A good life. That means something.




Monday, November 17, 2014

The year (or at least 88% of it) in review

I won’t be running any more races this year, so it seems like a good time to do a recap. Yeah, I know, I’m rushing through the rest of the year like someone who puts up Christmas lights before the Halloween pumpkins even have faces, but since I’m doing this before probably every other recap-of-the-year you’ll see from now until mid-January, at least I’m ahead of the pack in something.

I ran 14 races or race-type events this year. Of these, 6 were ultras (2 of which were DNFs in which I still managed to do ultra distance), 3 were marathons (2 road, 1 trail), with the rest ranging from 1 mile to 25k. This would seem like a pretty good year in a lot of ways, but actually I consider this a pretty lousy year. Of those 14 races, there were only 2 that I would consider great (interestingly, the longest and the shortest—40 miles and 1 mile). Another 2 races I consider OK in that I didn’t PR but I wasn’t really that much off my goal. The rest I would prefer not to consider at all. They sucked, and none worse than this last one.

Fun fact: over the five years I have been running marathons and ultras, I have never gotten the same running injury twice. First it was shin splints, inner left. Then a strained iliopsoas on the right. Plantar fasciitis, left. Bruised knee, right. Achilles tendonitis that turned into major deep-vein thrombosis, left. Hematoma, right (arm, that is—gave me that badass scar I’m so proud of). Near as I can figure out, this time it seems to be tendonosis of the peroneal brevis. (Say it out loud—it’s fun!) That just means there’s a roughly postage-stamp-size spot above the knobby outside part of my ankle that is swollen and tender and hurts when I roll or twist the foot, though not when I put weight on it. This last part is good; since I won’t be running for a couple weeks, I’ll probably be putting ever-increasing amounts of weight on it with the ever-increasing consumption of holiday goodies.

Unlike before the marathon two weeks ago, I felt very confident and ready to take on my 50 miler. Because of this, it’s tempting to say that if I had not gotten injured, I know I could have finished the 50, and finished strong. Thing is, that’s a bit like saying if the Titanic had not hit the iceberg, it would have had a splendid maiden voyage. Sure, that’s possible, but it’s kind of a stupid and pointless thing to say. There was an iceberg. I did get injured. Hmm, maybe I can get Kate Winslet to play me in the movie.

Every runner I know—every runner—has had a bad race. Not just a race where they were short of their goal, but a bad race. A race where they didn’t finish, where they got injured, where they were last or damn near last, a race they were looking forward to for months only to be crushed by a disappointing performance. It happens—a lot. The worst thing about this, though, isn’t just that I had a bad race but that it will probably be another year before I take on another 50. For spring, I’m focusing on trying to BQ. For summer there are a couple of just-for-fun races I’d like to do (an ultra relay in Wisconsin, the 8-hour moving picnic known as Howl). It won’t be until next fall that I can focus on a long trail ultra again, and that’s so far in the future who the hell knows what shape I’ll be in or whether one of the many types of apocalypse will have happened by then. Small children often think that a year is an insanely long amount of time; if you want to see pouting, just tell a kid next year they can do something really fun. Well, there are some things we never grow out of, and while a year is a small fraction of my life compared to the life of a child, it can still be a long, long time to get through. Don’t believe me? Think about the last bad job you had, the last bad relationship you were in, the last place you lived that really sucked. Now imagine on the day you were going to get out, someone told you that you needed to wait a year. Yeah. That’s the feeling.

I will admit something right now that makes me look a bit petty (but there’s plenty more pettiness where that came from): part of the reason I wanted this 50 so bad was because I wanted to get it right right off the bat. I wanted to be someone who seemed like she was born to do long distances. I wanted my first marathon to be great, my first ultra to be great, my first 50 to be great. Well, none of the above happened. My first marathon was a hobbling, shin-splinted disaster. My first ultra wrecked my Achilles and took me out of running for a month. And my first 50 has already resulted in not one but two DNFs, plus an injured thingamabob.  

Of course I still love running regardless of how fast, slow, long, or short I run. I still enjoy it even when I’m the last person in my group to finish a particular run—which is good, because this happens quite a lot. And in spite of everything that’s happened this year, I still can’t wait to get back to it. At the same time, as with a lot of people who become physically fit later in life—and become obsessive about keeping that way—I’ve often felt like I have to make up for lost time by going extreme. I don’t just want to be in shape; I want to be in phenomenal shape. I don’t just want to be a healthy weight; I want to exercise so much I can eat any damn thing I want—in fact, I almost have to eat any damn thing I want because I just burned off 2000 calories on an ordinary weekday training run. And so it was with ultra running. I wanted this to be my thing that I was good at. Kind and encouraging people will no doubt tell me that I am good at it, yet just because you do something a lot doesn’t necessarily mean you excel at it. I do a lot of running. I have not, at least this year, done it particularly well.

Funny thing about that, though: the runners I admire the most are never the most talented, skilled, or naturally able. They are, in fact, the most persistent. I don’t mean that they keep running even when they’re injured or that they go around bragging about how they run in sub-zero or triple-digit temperatures, through tornadoes, up active volcanoes, dodging lightning strikes, snipers, and ninjas the whole way. When I say “persistent,” I mean that they keep doing what they do because they’ve found something worth doing. These are people worth emulating. I hope, once the new year rolls around, I’ll still find running to be something worth doing. And if you’re a regular reader of this blog, thank you; I hope to find writing about running worth doing as well.


Sunday, November 16, 2014

Nope x 2

It’s visual aid time! I’m partial to pie charts, mainly because I like pie, but Venn diagrams are fun, too, as evidenced by the number of comical versions floating around online. For my purposes today, however, I’m going to rely on an old-fashioned set of squares, which may lack flash but makes up for it in clarity and simplicity.

Felt good
Felt bad

Now let’s fill in the chart with some of my recent races, shall we?

Good race, felt good = Howl at the Moon 8-hour ultra. This was one of my best races ever. I had been training solidly for a couple of months, and it paid off handsomely in the form of 40 miles with time to spare. I knew I would do well on this one and I ended up doing even better than I’d anticipated. That was August. That was a while ago.

Bad race, felt bad = Indianapolis Monumental Marathon. I knew I wasn’t ready to BQ two weeks ago. The longest race-pace run I’d done prior to the marathon was only 16 miles, and at the end of that run I knew I didn’t have it anywhere in me to do another 10 at that pace; the very idea made me want to gag on a shot block. I didn’t feel confident because I wasn’t ready, and the result was pretty much what I expected: short of the goal. And no, for the last time, I do not believe I “jinxed” the results. If you stubbornly insist on thinking this, next time a non-runner brashly proclaims that they could run a marathon next month without ever having run one before, you tell me how much you believe that where there’s a will, there’s a way.

Good race, felt bad = Ice Age 50 miler (DNF). This one comes with an asterisk, and in fact it’s hard to find an example of a “good” race where I didn’t feel confident beforehand given that lack of confidence generally stems from a lack of training—or a non-lack of injury. In this case, I was still dealing with ITB issues that had sidelined me for a few weeks. I knew I wasn’t ready to tackle my first 50 so I figured I’d go as far as I could until I couldn’t take it any more and then DNF. I took it nice and slow, let every damn person in creation pass me up, and ended up doing 30 reasonably enjoyable miles before deciding that I shouldn’t push it to the point of reinjury. Yes, it was my first DNF, and I didn’t achieve my goal, so that can hardly be called a truly “good” race, but still, a reasonably satisfying DNF beats a lot of other resolutions to races, as we shall soon see.

Felt good, bad race = this race. This stupid fucking race.

Yesterday was the Tunnel Hill 50-mile ultra. This was to be my second attempt at conquering 50, and I was eager to let the conquering begin. I also wanted some redemption after Indy, and Tunnel Hill seemed perfect: a flat, non-technical ultra in cool weather, with a distance so long that I would have no choice but to run slow, take it easy, stop at every aid station instead of running through—in short, just the kind of running I love. I was looking forward to this, and in fact for the first half of it I felt good, steadily on pace, happily letting people go by me because I was dead certain I’d likely catch many of them later on. That’s usually how it goes when you pace well. That wasn’t at all what happened.

When I say I felt good, I don’t mean necessarily that there wasn’t any pain. Running without pain? Yeah, that doesn’t happen. That said, there’s pain—burning lungs, achy muscles, rumbly tummy—and then there’s P! A! I! N!, the kind signifying that something is going terribly wrong. So there was this twinge in my ankle. At first it seemed like the first kind of pain, just a thing that happens during a run. After stopping to refuel on Coke and Pringles at mile 27, I started up again and whammo, the minor twinge had become something considerably sharper and harder. Some kind of tendon issue, it was clear, one that wasn’t going away the further I went. I tried to run. Couldn’t. I tried to walk briskly. That lasted a few more miles. For one fleeting moment I thought I might be able to walk the last 20 miles of this stupid thing even though it would mean a lousy finish time, when I was on pace to finish great. And then I got to the tunnel.

The “tunnel” in tunnel hill is the long, dark stuff of nightmares, and I had forgotten to bring my headlamp. There could have been a huge pit squirming with snakes right in front of me and I would have plunged right in. I started singing “99 bottles of beer on the wall” out loud in case there were other runners without headlights in the tunnel, so they wouldn’t smack right into me. Nothing really bad happened in the tunnel as far as snake pits or smacking, but it was there that I knew I’d have to DNF. The ankle was really hurting now, and at this point I risked turning a minor injury into one that might take months rather than weeks to recover. I got to 95 bottles of beer, the tunnel ended, an aid station appeared, and I declared my DNF status.

I got a ride back to the start/finish and sat, shivering and miserable, to wait for my victorious friends to finish. The top ten finishers were gathered nearby, excitedly recounting the details of the race, joking about how much they were going to eat and how drunk they were going to get, laughing, grinning, euphoric, completely ignoring me. Yeah, it’s just a race, nobody died, I failed no one but me, but this was definitely one of the low points of my running life.

I was saved from death by self-pity, however, when a woman working the aid station came over to talk to me. She’d recognized me, she said. I was startled; I did not recognize her. “You coach a beginning women’s running group, right?” I do. She told me she and her husband had just moved to the town where I live and she’d done a few Tuesday evening runs with my running group, a subset of which is the beginners’ group I work with. We got to talking and I asked what she was doing down in this part of the world volunteering for a race. Turns out she and her husband were both supposed to run the 50, but she was recovering from a stress fracture and still wasn’t quite 100%. “I got to marathon distance and decided that was enough,” she said. “So after I DNF’d I told the race director I could help with the aid station until my husband finishes.”   

I told her my own story, and she nodded understandingly. “You know,” she added, “ten years ago I would have told myself to shrug off the pain, bear down, and push through it. But now? I know better. That’s just stupid. I’m satisfied with what I did. You should be too.”

It was probably the single best thing anyone could have said to me. I knew she was right, and I knew I’d made the smart decision. I was also reminded, talking to her, of the enjoyment to be had in other people’s running and not just one’s own, be it volunteering to slice bananas and refill sports bottles or encouraging women who never thought they’d call themselves runners to do just that. I’ll probably be out of running for a couple weeks as I recover from this latest injury, but running will still be part of my life.

And yet…and yet. I wish I could say that everything was all right after that, but it wasn’t. Not even close. It also reminded me of the dilemma I once faced as a creative writing teacher. I used to wonder if I was really doing my students a disservice by encouraging them to write. Almost nobody writes just for their own entertainment, after all, and almost everyone who writes wants their writing to be read and admired. And therein lies the struggle. Once you try to test yourself through external measures, you face the possibility of failure. And more failure. Again and again, heartbreak after heartbreak. True for writing, true for running. At some point you wonder, why bother? Part of me admires those runners who never run races, runners who truly don’t care how fast or slow they run or whether anyone else knows how fast or slow they run. That part of me thinks it would be nice to be that way myself.

But the other part of me already knows what it would feel like to decide to be that way: there would be relief, followed by profound disappointment. I know that because that’s how I felt when I knew I had to DNF for the second time. I like setting goals for myself. I like challenges. I do not, unsurprisingly, like failing in these goals and challenges. And giving up on running goals altogether seems like it would hurt just as much as failing. I don’t know about that, though. The pain from my injury is nothing to the pain from falling short of my goal yet again.



Sunday, November 9, 2014

Pet sounds

The BF’s youngest daughter was in a talent show at her high school, so as a dutiful GF I went along. He thanked me profusely for doing so, even though it wasn’t all that awful. That said, let me repeat: high school talent show. Yeah. That said, I can quite honestly and objectively tell you that the BF’s daughter was one of the stars. She belted out a magnificent “I Will Survive” so as to leave no doubt of that fact (though she told me afterward the song is in no way personal, as she’s never been in the situation described therein—“I guess I’m just good at singing angry,” she grinned). She was deservedly one of the crowd pleasers, as was an earnest young man—for there is always at least one earnest young man in any high school talent competition—who sang that Adele song. You know, that Adele song? The hell if I know the title; do I look like I know the name of any song written in the 21st century? In any case, it’s about love and hurting, which narrows it down not at all, but I doubt it matters much.  

Ah, sweet sorrow. Thing is, I haven’t got much of a sweet tooth anymore, not for leftover Halloween candy and certainly not for any song that romanticizes suffering. This is personal taste, not a moral stance. It certainly isn’t “wrong” to sing about the pain of love—on the contrary, some great tunes and a whole lot of catharsis have resulted from doing just that. But leave me out of it. At some point in a person’s life, sorrow no longer has even a tinge of sweetness. At best you shrug it off; at second-best you respond with a weary sigh. Never is the sigh filled with yearning; you’re tired of yearning, plus if you’re lucky you don’t need to yearn because you’re truly satisfied with what you have.

It’s tough for some people, myself included, to get to that truly satisfied place in life, and it’s not because (as I have so often been accused) I refuse to be happy. I don’t happen to think it’s always a bad thing to be dissatisfied; it means you see how things could be better, thus you always have a goal. The problem is striking that delicate balance between the pursuit of pleasure and the avoidance of pain. Because I continue to pursue long distance running, obviously I have not taken up pain avoidance full-time. That said, there are some types of pain I’ve tried very hard to keep out of my life—mostly unsuccessfully. The other reason there are so many songs about sorrow, besides the fact that their listeners love the delicious swell of emotions they induce, is that it’s universal and pervasive. We’re born crying, not giggling, after all.

One particular type of pain I’ve tried to avoid I’m now stuck dealing with in ever-increasing quantities: the sorrow that comes from losing a beloved pet. I refuse to read The Art of Racing in the Rain. Ditto Marley and Me. And Where the Red Fern Grows? Don’t get me started. The hell kind of book is that to give to a child? These are all popular and esteemed books, but anything that features a dying dog or dogs, nope, not gonna do it. This is why I have never gotten a pet in my adult life, even though as a child we always had animals around—rabbits, guinea pigs, dogs, birds, tanks of fish. In retrospect I find this a little odd given how pragmatic and no-frills my parents were, but then I guess they both grew up with animals around too, so perhaps it just became an expected part of life. I loved our pets. I hated losing them. Natural emotions, yes, but at some point later in life I decided I was losing too many things, that life was becoming more about losing than anything else, and I didn’t want to add to the losses. So for years when I went home there was no barking or purring, no squeaking or squawking, not even the blub of an aquarium. I thought I had at least managed to dodge that particular bullet of sadness.

Now I live in a house with a boyfriend, a dog, a turtle, and two macaws. The macaws will outlive us by a lot; the turtle will probably go when we go, and the dog, I know, may have only a couple years left. Even though she annoys the hell out of me sometimes, I don’t like thinking about the time when she won’t be annoying the hell out of me ever again. I have to, though. My sister’s dog is the same age as ours and has been experiencing increasingly severe GI problems over the last few months, which could mean a number of things from ulcers to tumor. If it’s a tumor, surgery would be the only way to address the problem, and even that would be iffy. My sister has already decided not to put the dog through that kind of pain, a decision most people would agree is the right one—and, most people would further agree, is the hardest one to make. It is probably just about killing her right now to think of making it.

Of all the sentimental tear-inducing stuff posted on facebook, few have made me bawl the way this one did, from friends who went through something similar with one of their dogs: Today we took Pearl for a walk in the woods. Tomorrow she will have roast beef. Next week we say goodbye. I’ve read vast gloomy Russian novels and shed nary a tear, yet three sentences and a photo of an aged canine sitting in the sun and I’m blubbering all over the keyboard.

There are times when the attitudes of animal lovers bother me. Whenever someone says they find their dogs/cats/birds/iguanas far superior to most people, I kind of want to shake them a little and suggest that this may not be most people’s fault. People are difficult and complex and hard to get along with, yes, but we have to get along with them or the world will be even worse off. It’s a cop-out to say you prefer animals to people; it’s a bit like saying you prefer reading a book to holding a job: big duh, now deal with it. Reading takes a certain amount of effort, yes, but it generally represents effort done voluntarily, with immediate and obvious rewards. Likewise, pets don’t care for themselves, but they’re easy to love. People, not so much. Cue Adele song.

Animals may be easy to love but they are not at all easy to lose. I’ll admit that sometimes when the BF tells me about all the elaborate procedures and treatments being given to a hamster or a canary, I’ll have a moment of thinking, seriously? But I’ll know, of course, that it isn’t just a ball of fur or feathers to someone, and I’ll unwillingly feel that chest-tightness, that surge of sorrow, because I know what they must be going through and I wish I never had to go through it again.

But I will go through it again, as will my sister, as will anyone in a similar situation; it can’t be avoided. And yes, we will survive, though we won’t feel like singing a triumphant song about it. We won’t feel like singing much at all. Instead we’ll be listening—for the click of paws on tile, for the swish of a tail, for something to fill the silence. It will be filled eventually, not by sounds, but memories. It is not what we want—we want our friends back—but at least we don't feel empty.



Monday, November 3, 2014


If YA dystopian fiction has any basis in truth, it seems that in the future the world will revolve entirely around teenagers. Man, that’s bleak. I’m a little tired of these books, frankly, and not just out of professional jealousy. Even when they’re good—and some of them are quite enjoyable and even well-crafted—they seem ridiculously simplistic, turning all of humanity into a single-sentence premise. Totalitarian regime makes teens kill each other…controls who teens are mated with…forces teens to join cliques based on vague personality traits…because when you’ve got all the power in the world, naturally you’re going to want to boss teenagers around instead of, like, I don’t know, build a mansion made of diamonds and eat donuts sprinkled with gold dust every day.

For this reason I was wary when a friend recommended Lois Lowry’s The Giver to me. It’s YA, and it’s dystopian, although it was written in the 90s well before the recent YAD craze. The book jacket blurb made me cringe a little—once again there’s a youth upon whose shoulders the fate of humanity rests, because of course we all know how deeply teenagers care about the fate of humanity and will do anything to ensure its welfare. Please. When I was that age I was clueless, not dauntless, and I daresay I wasn’t atypical, at least in this way. All that said, the Lowry book looked to be a quick read, not even 200 pages, so I dove in.

I was pleasantly surprised, always a wonderful experience in reading and one of the reasons I will keep reading as long as I have a brain that can process the written word. I was particularly struck (as most readers of this book are) by the ending. OK, here’s where I’m supposed to go “spoiler alert!!!” because I’m going to talk about that ending. I guess I’m one of the few people on the planet who doesn’t mind spoilers, but out of consideration for those who do, you might have to skip the first two sentences of the next paragraph. I recommend holding your index fingers over them, though you can also just scroll so the text disappears. I prefer the old-fashioned finger approach, but then I still have a flip phone.

The ending of The Giver is one of the most brilliant ambiguous endings ever. Basically Lowry leaves it entirely unclear whether our young hero lives to achieve his goal or dies failing to do so. Like probably every reader, when I got to that ending I went “huh?” and reread the last couple of pages several times to see if I’d missed some vital clue. I hadn’t. I groaned. I am not a fan of ambiguous endings, in part because most writers just can’t pull them off, but also because readers respond to them in ways that aggravate the literature professor in me. Every time I’ve taught a story with an ambiguous ending, some student will chirpily exclaim, “Oh, the writer did that so the reader can decide how it really ends!!” And I will smile and calmly press a pillow over the face of that cheery observation until it suffocates. No, people. No. Writers do not care how you think a story ends. Literature is not just an inkblot whereby you explore your own ideas and feelings. You can do that on your own damn time. The world is a much larger place than the dim little cave of your own cranium, so rather than trying to decide how you think a story ends, why not try to listen to what the writer may actually be saying?

A lot of life is ambiguous. We are going to not know more things than we will know in our small lifetimes, so why should stories not attempt to reflect this? Why write a clear, definitive ending to a story when so much of the world is murk and mess? Has any relationship really ended with complete resolution? Has any war? Uncertainty is pervasive. If a book ends in a way that can’t easily be comprehended, perhaps that book has captured something absolutely essential to human life. In this case, Lowry makes a crucial point relevant to this particular dystopian world (here comes the second spoiler): the hero of the book makes a decision that involves considerable risk. He lives in a society where there is almost no suffering—no illness, no war, no famine—but also no choice, no strong emotions, and no sense of aesthetics or beauty. He chooses to leave this world full well knowing the risk he’s taking. If Lowry rewards this risk with a happy ending, it diminishes the impact of that decision and that risk. And if she kills the guy, well, who the hell wants to read that?

The point is that we cannot expect our risks to pay off. We can’t believe that just because we’ve done this daring thing, we should automatically be rewarded for it. Sometimes the daring thing fails. That’s why it’s risky. If you only did things that were guaranteed success, well, you might as well be stuck in some godawful YA dystopian fantasy. You might get a cute boyfriend out of it, but you’d probably be really bored with him and the whole lame setup fairly quickly. Failure—why are people so afraid to say that word? It’s a word, not a permanent brand on one’s forehead. We fail at things because we try things. That’s not so bad, is it?

And this, as you may have figured out, is my overly elaborate reflection on the first time I tried to qualify for the Boston Marathon. I took a risk when I decided to set this goal for myself, and in this case the risk did not pay off. The details of Saturday’s race are pretty typical: a struggle through 20 miles to stay on pace and then a complete and total bonk. Yes, that’s the technical term for it. I failed to achieve my goal; this was not due to mere bad luck, nor was it due to bad training. I trained well, as well as I possibly could, but right now I am simply not capable of running a 3:55 marathon. No, this is not due to a bad attitude or a lack of confidence. Confidence comes from experience, not desire. If you believe you can achieve your goals just because you want to, you’re either incredibly privileged or dangerously delusional. I wanted it. I didn’t get it. Back to training I go.

What made this goal risky is that it’s not an easy thing to do; if it were easy, I wouldn’t care. I knew this would be hard before I even started training, and I’m even more appreciative of that now. In this case, unlike in The Giver, there is no ambiguity about the ending: I failed. Yes, failed, no sugar-coating there. It sucks to fail, but at least I’m still definitely alive, and once I’ve foam-rolled the hell out of my poor achy quads, I’ll still be running.