On Goals

Goals are funny things. I am a goal-setter by nature; I like the ability to measure my success in finite amounts. Goals can be wonderful - they can push you to uncharted territory and allow you to accomplish things you once never dreamed possible. But goals can also cripple you when your focus becomes too narrowly defined by the end point that you aren't paying attention to the road that will get you there. One of the hardest things for me to overcome thus far in my marathon training has been to trust that the steps I'm taking will eventually lead me to my goal. It's not easy.

The first thing I had to do was start laying down a foundation for my fitness level, upon which I could build my training to get myself to the start of the marathon. A lot of my posts talk about fear, because a lot of this journey has involved realizing, facing, and overcoming my fears. I have spent a good part of the last few years being nervous, tepid, afraid of taking risks, of pushing myself, of failure, and moreover, of taking myself into uncharted territory. My training has been just as much mental as it is physical. I've had to develop an acute awareness of my thoughts and attitude, and how I allow them to affect my actions.

Even though I had committed to running the NYC Marathon with Team in Training, and had raised a good chunk of money towards my fundraising requirement, I have been plagued with a nagging fear for the past few weeks that I would not actually be able to complete the entire marathon. 26.2 miles had taken up this nebulous, ethereal space in my head where I couldn't conceptually grasp what it would take to finish. I had no idea how I would feel on mile 12, or mile 18, or mile 25, how I could calm my nerves at the start, and the kind of elation I could possibly feel at the finish. I've had a lot of goals in my life, but it's been far too long - almost too long for me to remember - what it feels like to commit 100% of myself to a challenge. My goal had taken hold of me, and was shaking me to the core. Every workout came with a nagging sense of dread, and manifested itself into knots in my stomach. I didn't know what it was that I was doing that would help me move forward; conversely, I didn't know if, or what, I was doing that was inhibiting myself from taking control of my goal. Much of my training felt like an effort in shuffling through a set of motions - left foot forward, then right foot, now walk at the beep, turn around and head back up that hill, I can't wait for this to be over.

And then something clicked for me this week. Somewhere in the depths of my brain, a steely, energized person began to form from within my doubts and fears. Somewhere, that person grabbed a hold of my goal, and said, "this is mine. I can do this." Where I had previously slogged through training, or skipped workouts, I attacked each training opportunity with surprising zeal, embracing the tension in my muscles and grinning through my sweat. I pushed through a circuit workout, got up the next day, and did it again. Then, I faced an interval set on Wednesday that scared me a little bit. And well it should have - it was easily the most challenging running workout of my life. But then I got up on Thursday and did another interval set. And the knots in my stomach began to harden into a settled feeling of resolve. For the first time in years, I felt in control of my goal, and was ready to navigate my way to the marathon.

On Friday, one of the hottest days in New York on record, I debated how to address my long training run on Saturday morning. Of all the elements of my training, the long runs have induced the most fear for me. I had developed a pattern where I would push myself one week, only to return the next week and back down in fear of what it would take to go further than the previous Saturday. My previous long run had pushed 6 miles. I had wanted to do 7, but it was hot, and I was tired, and I had a sunburn, and in the end, I had allowed my excuses to dictate my training. Now I was still unsure whether to do 7 or 8 miles, unsure of whether I could do either, and had been cautioned not to push myself with the barometer likely to top 100 degrees. And all of a sudden I found myself in Central Park, gathered with my teammates, all of us pouring sweat at 7 am, and heard myself saying to my group that I was going 8 today for anyone who wanted to join me on a second full loop. I was going to run 8 miles, and no heat, no fear was going to stop me.

As I started my second mile, the oppressive heat seemed to dissipate around me. With each step I gained confidence in my choice - I was going 8 miles and I'd be damned if I was going to stop myself. Our group stopped at every water fountain in the park; no matter how strong my resolve was, those miles weren't going to happen unless I stayed properly hydrated in that weather. And as we pushed through mile 5, then mile 6, I felt a strange feeling of comfort as my tired feet moved forward, one, then the other, tapping out a rhythm in time with my breathing. Not physical comfort, but for the first time a concrete realization that I can finish my marathon. That was what it would feel like - a partnership of comfort and discomfort cancelling each other out, so all that was left to do was to keep moving. I know I can keep going. I can do this. I had taken hold of my goal, and allowed myself to push toward it, circumventing my fear - fear of what? I didn't even know any more - and proving to myself the mental and physical strength I had within me. Little by little over the past week, I had broken down a barrier that loomed over me, and used those pieces to take steps toward my goal. My marathon.

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