Monday, May 30, 2011

Mean or Motivated

Jacob Matham after Hendrick Goltzius, Superbia, c. 1593
 This past weekend I ran a 10 mile race along the Mississippi River. Considering I hadn't gotten the usual amount of sleep in the prior few days on account of flying back to the States and subsequent socializing, I was quite happy with my 1:19:57 time. I planned on incorporating my warm-up and cool down with the race to log at least 15 miles total. To do so, I parked about 2.5 miles away, and jogged to the start. I felt pretty good. In fact, for all the runs I had completed since returning to Minneapolis, I felt good. Some of that I attribute to the sunny, but cool weather. Some of it I attribute to being relaxed; after two weeks living from a suitcase and anxious about volcanoes, train delays, and other such transportation problems, I had made it safely back to the Minnesota. It is always a joy when your body is working with you. But feeling good is not something that happens magically. I set goals, and I make specific steps to accomplish them. Perhaps most importantly, I try to check in with myself frequently to make sure those steps are working, and the goal does not need to be adjusted. I had set the goal of 8-minute miles as a highly optimistic one. I knew I could run 8 minute miles, probably for at least 7-8 miles, but I wasn't sure I'd be able to sustain it.

Before any race I mentally set a time goal for myself. I always set this goal the morning of the race and base it on the many factors I know can contribute. I consider temperature, humidity, how I feel. My goal, in many ways, is both a wish and motivation. It is a wish, because I will not hesitate to re-assess and re-set my goal midway through a race. I set a goal that will push me, but that I know I can realistically accomplish.

Interestingly, I've heard that setting a a small, motivationally-oriented goal is difficult for many men, socialized to fulfil a particular gender role, to do. The idea that one can think small in order to achieve big does not seem to be part of many politicians' toolboxes either. I am constantly saddened that a politician will sacrifice long-term good for short-term glory to protect ego and power.

It's not that I don't know what it's like to fail. I do. It can be physically and emotionally debilitating to not live up to your own expectations. Yet after reflection, failure can be motivating. What did I do wrong? Was my goal unrealistic? What factors played into my expectation, and what factors played into my not realizing it?

The first marathon I ran was, in some ways, a failure for me. I ran the 2008 Twin Cities Marathon with my older brother and a high school friend. It rained from mile 4 to mile 9. It was cold. I was chafed. I was unprepared, mentally and physically, for the toll a marathon takes. I had struggled with plantar fasciitis all throughout training, and I was already hurting at mile 13. Still, I continued to push, and it wasn't until mile 24 that I became, as my brother and running partner put it, "a cornered badger."

(Do not watch the following if you are offended by foul language or blood)

Okay, so perhaps I wasn't as bad as the honey badger above, but my attitude of "I am not going to care about how my body feels, I am going to do what I want" is scarily similar to the badger's (don't feel the bee stings! Forget the cobra venom! Honey Badger don't care!). There is a line between a badass athlete who is at his/her physical peak and a good sport, and just a nasty, hurting, animal. Humans are animals, and we revert to instinct when in trouble. I was in trouble at mile 24, and to protect myself emotionally--to protect my pride and my ego--I snarled and spat for my brother and friend to go on, to leave me. My friend told me to "simmer down," something that in my extraordinarily defensive state I could hardly do. I had no energy left, my body was breaking, and sadly, my energy went into prideful self-preservation, growling my frustrations.

In the 10 mile race yesterday, I started out running just under 8 minute miles. I felt good. And I continually repeated that affirmation to myself as the miles ticked by. Almost like a mantra, I told myself  "I feel strong. I am strong." I told myself this at each mile marker and while maintaining pace going up hills. After mile 7, I was feeling tired. My mantra shifted, interestingly, to second person. It became motivational, rather than affirmational. I alternated between "you can do this" and "you are strong." The ego, in other words, had left--marked by the entrance of the second person in my thoughts. Miles 8 and 9 were just over 8 minute miles. I readjusted my goal, allowing myself to be over, allowing myself to be happy with feeling good and feeling strong, but also telling myself it was not yet out of the realm of possibility to finish under 1:20. And, with the mantras in my head, I did it!

Yesterday's race was a success for me. The 2008 marathon, while frustrating on many levels, was a useful and important experience as well. I learned how to train better, how to listen to my body better, and how to let myself fail. I learned there (and in many other non-running related experiences) some humility. Would that our leaders could do the same, and that we, as voters, valued that virtue.

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