On Charity, Goals, & French Fries

A couple of weeks ago, I signed up to run the Marine Corps Marathon (October 25th 2015). This will be my fourth full marathon, but two things will make this training period slightly different than my past three. The first is that I will be attempting Hal Higdon’s advanced marathon training program. (I’m a huge fan of Hal Higdon’s training programs. In the past, I’ve used both his Novice 2 and Intermediate 2 programs.) The second is that for the first time in my marathon career (if you can really call it a career), I will be running with a charity—the St. Jude Heroes charity for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

As I mention in the blurb on my personal donation page, I’m excited to be coupling my personal training goals with a goal to achieve something for a cause far greater than whatever my personal running-related goals could ever be. But with any sort of heightened excitement—for me at least—also comes heightened nervousness. In the past I’ve always said that I go into every race with an a-goal, a b-goal, and a c-goal (always a bit thrown by the number of people who think I meant “seagull’ after the last one). For the past three marathons I ran my goals have been as follows:

A. Qualify for Boston (i.e. run a 3:35 marathon).

B. Achieve a personal record (PR).

C. Cross the finish line.

Being the extremely competitive and slightly obsessive-compulsive person that I am, I’m not saying that on the occasions that I have achieved my c-goal and not my a-or-b goals (which has been two out of the three occasions) that I haven’t spent far too many hours obsessing over what I did “wrong” as if doing so could negate whatever “wrong” thing(s) I did. But whether or not my actions always add up to my words and thoughts, I do not believe that a person should ever be upset with themselves for “merely finishing” a marathon.

I didn’t qualify for Boston during the Nashville Rock n’ Roll Marathon. I guess I did PR, but that’s only because it was the first marathon I actually ran (I had trained for NYC the year it was hurricaned out). I neither PRed nor qualified for Boston during the NYC Marathon the following fall. But I both PRed and qualified for Boston in Detroit last year, which left anyone interested in my running/marathon goals (or anyone good at pretending they were interested) with the question, “now what?”

It was a really good question. I think at one point I saw qualifying and competing in the Boston Marathon as something of an end goal. But that isn’t the case anymore. I said to quite a few people, “no more marathons (until Boston) until I finish a draft of my ‘project,’” to which most responded, “yeah right,” and yeah, they were right. I should have said “no more wine” or “no more French fries,” but in all honesty I would have likely succumbed to my desire for those things too (possibly sooner than my I did to marathon-training one).

NOTE: “Project” is my intentionally-vague code word for novel that I’ve decided to use until the aforementioned draft is complete. That being said, I do still plan to complete a rough draft of my project  before running the Marine Corps Marathon. (I also plan to eat many French Fries before doing so.)

This may sound corny, but marathon training is a part of me now. Whether it is a good or bad (or sometimes good, but sometimes bad) part of me is up for debate, but it challenges me, grounds me, inspires me, and—in many ways—completes me, while also encouraging me to look for more/better ways to be complete. At present, that means adding fundraising for the incredible organization that is St. Jude to my marathon-training regime. I’m signed up to raise $4,500 over the next few months and, to be honest, this seems more challenging, more frightening, but also more exhilarating to me than the weekly mileage increase or interval workouts that differentiate this training program from the past ones. The stakes feel higher because they are not dependent on how hard I train or how fast I run. Well, perhaps my b-goal and c-goals are, but my a-goal this time around is to raise the money I’ve promised to raise.

If you’d like to donate to my personal page, please do so here.

Using Running to Start a Blog (Take 2): Or, Starting a Blog About Running…

I’m posting my “first” blog post on the first day of my official marathon-training period for the upcoming Marine Corps Marathon (MCM). I’ve placed quotes around “first” because this isn’t actually my first blog post on this blog. Though I’ve deleted the real first entry (written almost two years ago), it feels somewhat dishonest to suggest it never existed. I think that I’m also mentioning the former first blog post as a way of calling myself out on beginning a blog—a blog that also coincided with a marathon-training period (the 2013 ING NYC Marathon)—and not following through with it.

I was a little aimless in my first attempt at blogging, which is likely why I failed at it. Failed might be too strong of a word—it’s hard to fail at something you’re trying to do when you’re not even sure what that something is. Or else, it’s very easy to fail at it. Either way, what I know now that—as stupid as this might sound—I did not know when I wrote my first entry called, “Using Running to Start a Blog,” was that I not only wanted to use running to start a blog, I wanted to write a blog about running.

If my desire to blog about running wasn’t transparent in the entry’s title, it definitely should have been in its content. Here’s an excerpt:

[…]Why I love running should be transparent to anyone who has any idea of my temperament. I’m competitive, yes, but what I also like is that, with running, I put in a prescribed amount of effort for a prescribed amount of time in order to get a desired result. There is certainly an I-am-in-control factor to running which is most likely why many people who know me might prefer that I didn’t run (I have a history of over-attaching myself to things I feel like I can control in order to distract myself from the things that I can’t).        

However, I disagree with this idea that running merely empowers the “control-freak” mindset. In my opinion, it also challenges it. As a runner, while you are often rewarded with desired results for training hard and consistently, those results are never guaranteed. In fact, they are often thwarted. Being a runner requires a certain level of comfort with ambiguity and the ability to surrender yourself to things outside of your control (weather, injury, sickness, etc.). In short, training for a specific race does not always result in that race and training for a specific time, does not always result in that time.

That I have yet to prove myself entirely graceful in the face of either of these two uncertainties is just one reason for someone to question whether or not running and I are good for each other. That marathon training seems to be a waste of time and energy that could be more productively put towards other things is another. I think that one of my parents’ greatest fears is that I will wake up one day convinced that graduate school and career building are petty compared to bopping around Manhattan for hours on end. While it would be a lie to say that this does not ever feel like the case, I have not yet become so disillusioned by running that I see it as a be-all and end-all. For me, at present, running is two things:

  1. A positive displacement for energy that might otherwise interfere with “more important” areas of my life (work, relationships, dreams, etc.)
  2. An infinite vessel of enlightening, life-applicable metaphors. Running provides both an escape from and revelatory parallels to reality[…]

The logical and expected train of progression would have been for me to take any running-related thing mentioned above and expand on it in my second entry. But instead, I devoted my second entry to my missing and probably deceased stuffed-animal panda bear, Goggles, and his predecessor, Panda.

Looking back, I probably opted to write about a stuffed animal instead of sticking with the subject matter I set myself up to talk about for the same reason a child (or twenty-eight year old woman…insert embarrassed-face emoji) might have any sort of relationship with a stuffed animal to begin with: comfort in the face of fear, tangibility in the face of ambiguity, etcetera, etcetera.

I think that my previous resistance to writing about running came from a number of insecurities: What could I possibly have to say about running that hasn’t already been said by the trillions of people that already write about running? By blogging about running am I claiming to be some sort of self-proclaimed expert on the subject? I don’t want to be judged as an expert. Actually, I don’t want to be judged at all. What if the parallels I draw between running and the rest of my life seem too obvious, or too contrived, or too nonsensical, or too boring? Or–probably my biggest concern–what if nobody wants to hear me talk more about running than I already do? But I guess the whole you-don’t-ever-really-know-the-outcome-when-you-train-for-a-marathon idea could be the metaphorical combatant to all of these hesitancies.

All of this to say that I will be blogging about a number of things, but I’m going to—hopefully without jinxing myself—say that this is will be is a blog about running.