Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Perpetual (Un)Happiness

Behold The Marathon Photo.

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This is The Marathon Photo. The one that goes on the wall. The only marathon photo to go on the wall. Is it my fastest marathon? No. Is it my slowest? No. Was it my funnest? No.

Now why would this photo go on the wall and not the photo from my fastest marathon? (Besides the fact that it's the only one in which I'm not crying, pulling an ugly face or peeing myself?)

Because it's a reminder. A reminder that 12 years ago, when I started the running of many miles, I ooooh'd and awe'd over how awesome it would be to finish a marathon in as little as 3 hours 15 minutes. I had daydreams, nightdreams, wetdreams, hoping that one day - after much hard work, lost toenails and blisters - I'd hit my ultimate goal of 3 hours 15 minutes.

I hit that 3:15 goal in 2007.

Setting a goal and making that goal generally makes one happy. Ecstatic. Over-the-top-giddy. And it does actually make one happy, ecstatic and over-the-top giddy. However, goal achievement tends to make us hungry. Hungry for more. In this case I was hungry for faster.

I wanted to run faster.

The next year, I trained harder and smarter. All the while, reminding myself that 3:15 is my lifetime goal. Anything faster than 3:15 is gravy - don't go mental over it. That next year, I kicked the pants out of my 3:15 lifetime goal (in ferocious weather, up hill both ways, carrying hot potatoes to keep my hands warm and feed the poor at the finish.)

Okay, so maybe I didn't kick the pants off of my lifetime goal but I sure as heck knocked the socks off of it.

Now. Knocking the socks off a lifetime goal - making gravy - generally makes one happy. Ecstatic. Over-the-top-giddy. Once again however, exceeding my lifetime goal made me hungry for more.

I wanted to run faster.

This year, I trained harder and smarter. All the while, reminding myself that 3:15 is my lifetime goal. Anything faster than 3:15 is gravy. Rabid darling, you've hit that 3:15 and made gravy - don't go mental over it.

Do you see the pattern? Of perpetual goal setting? To produce happiness?

Here's what I've discovered: Goal setting is a delicate balance. Setting and achieving goals makes us better people. The hunger to do better - to be better - is what motivates us to set goals and work towards meeting those goals. The hunger for better - the hunger for gravy - is what makes us better people.

There is, however, a caveat in this hungry-gravy-makin'-goal-setting perpetual process. In order for us to maintain perpetual happiness, we must have the ability to step back, review our accomplishments and be content. On many occasions, we must be okay without the gravy.

So what happens if we need gravy all of time? What happens if we must constantly outdo ourselves over and over and over to be okay? We end up in a vicious cycle of perpetual unhappiness. We drown ourselves in frustration while looking for gravy.

Goals = Perpetual (Un)Happiness

Here I sit now, two days before my 13th marathon. I have kinked my back (and not in a good kinky kind of way). I'm looking back at the 70 mile weeks. I'm counting the Saturday mornings surrendered to 20+ milers. I'm reliving the agony of 4:45am - almost every day. I'm reviewing the speedwork sessions - the ones in which wheezing was an always and barfing was an almost. And you know what I've decided?

I don't even like gravy.


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20 comments:

The MacMizzles said...

Here is what I don't like about gravy. It has no shape, or body. When put on a plate it roams, and when left at room temperature it coagulates and makes a mess in the pan. I prefer chewing when hungry.

The MacMizzles said...

One thought: making a lifetime goal is awesome, but it is a lifestyle for you...so inspiring. Truly.

Lisa said...

I vividly remember that finish too :) It's in many of us runners, that drive to race each race better, faster than the one before. I tried 4:10 on for size last year and didn't like it one bit (it's LONG and lonely!) I consistently admire you for your drive and determination to wake at 4:45 for those fast crack o dawn runs. You inspire me to keep reaching for that 'lifetime goal' even as I feel myself slowing and growing a little older. Some years (and races) are better than others!

rjmatheson said...

Two years ago, two days prior to my wife's 'A' race for that year she suddenly began having excruciating pain. We're talking about a woman who delivered 5 of 7 without meds, who won't take any kind of pain meds. This was the year she was going to blow away her last PR. We drove to the race a day early so she could try things out. Found the wetsuit tightness helped her pain, and the bike position felt great. The run was another story, but she decided to start the race and see what happened. Okay swim, great bike split, nasty run. All together it still beat her PR by 15 minutes. On returning home her doctor who before the race said there was nothing really wrong said "Oh goodness! You've got X! I can't believe I missed it! Let me give you loratab. (which she wouldn't take) Get to bed!" Nice.
Basically, I know a few women who can run through walls because they want what's on the other side. You're one of them. Good luck Amber.

megan said...

does hiking with a baby strapped to the front of you count enough to let me comment????
oh well...go get 'em tiger...no more psyching yourself out...that is a GREAT image.

megan said...

hang on the walls of your mind the stories of your SUCCESSes

LaurieJ said...

Thank you, Thank you, Thank you. Love it. Love it. Love it.

Lois said...

Love, love, love this post.

(P.S. When my mother was newly married, her mother-in-law commented on her not-very-rich-looking gravy and told her to add some food coloring to it to make it more tasty in appearance. Well, it ended up being PURPLE)

rookie cookie said...

Hot potatoes taste better with gravy.

Julia said...

I can totally relate to this post. I NEVER fully enjoyed competitive running because almost immediately after I ran the fastest I EVER far in my life, I totally picked apart the race and how I could have done even better. I have realized that enjoying the journey is much more important than actually achieving any certain goal. That is the only part that is always in our control.

Becca said...

I don't really like gravy either--at least not the real kind. The kind you're talking about; I crave it and I want it when in truth it's not really that good for me--but the thought of it--it's enough to make me salivate! I'm right there with you friend. And by with I mean about a half an hour behind, but still I'm there. Good luck!! You're going to be amazing!

Oh, and congratulations--not on the life time PR but for having a marathon photo worth displaying--I haven't got there yet!

M-Cat said...

Color me green with envy. I'm just trying to get back to walking right now...... But next season? marathon here I come.
Good luck this weekend!

meg said...

Two things:

1. I have figured our why I haven't had any motivation at all (at all!) to do my usual exercise: you've been doing it for me. As return service, I've been eating more calories to support you. You're welcome.

2. Mark has brought up this post 3 times now; he has many questions for you about this thing you call 'running.'

rabidrunner said...

Pardon me while a post a post in my comments:

MacMizzles, I prefer the chewing when hungry. The sight of cold coagulated gravy makes me ill.

Lisa, I've done a 4:04. That's what happens when you run a marathon shortly after calfing a small creature.

RJ, what is "X"?! You have me thinking in circles over what ailment your lovely wife was able to push through.

Megan, there are no requirements for making a comments. I welcome all comments. The more comments I get, the higher my self esteem! I'm a huge fan of hanging my successes on the walls of my mind. HOWEVER - I'm still looking for the right hardware to do so. Prolly need a stud finder too. Right! Spouse is a stud, so that makes ME a stud finder!

Lois, you're on of the favorites among the people I don't actually know... you are so clever. I liked your addition to the gravy metaphor.

The Rookie Cookie made me giggle. Of course the two things you'd notice are the food things. You're my favorite foodie.

LauriJ, can't wait to you see you again! Remember that we met for the first time in Beaver? I mean... that's where we actually spoke to each other.

Julia, Julia, Julia, the girl in which the bike was named... I like you hard core collegiate athletes because you're very wise about this whole running nonsense.

M-Cat, hang in there! Stress fractures heal better than real fractures. And quicker too.

Meg, send the Husband my way with all of your questions. And as always, I'm appreciated of your support.

Ryan said...

Looks more like 3:16. I'm just sayin'

meg said...

All in favor of tar-and-feathering this Ryan bloke say so and meet at my place.

Wabid dahling, el husbandiero looks forward to your visit as I do, as he plans on having you enchant him with tales from the trails, so to speak.

Lars said...

I second Megan's motion on the tar-and-feathering. Rounding up only applies in the world of math and science not in athletics. Someone obviously doesn't participate in marathon, triathlon, or swim events. I would venture to say they probably don't want any sports.

I digress, I prefer my mashed taters sans gravy. I still think you'd kick ass if your time was 6:44:33. Sorry you didn't get kink your back in a more excited manner. Battle wounds deserve to have an excited tale.

Ryan said...

Aw shucks, Meg. No Missouri hot tub party for me this weekend, I'm afraid. Got plans.

And well done, Rabid. Forgot to mention that part. As someone who rather tends to adhere to the motto "run when chased" I'm a huge admirer.

rabidrunner said...

Ryan is either a) my smart ass brother-in-law or b) my sister's smart ass friend from high school or c) another smart ass.

Either way, smart asses are always welcome. AND I appreciate your noticing the time in the picture. You should note, Ryan Ass, that the time in the picture is the time from when the start gun fired. The chip time - aka the time that started once I started the starting line - was just over 3:15.

I feel so loved. Honestly do.

rabidrunner said...

Incidentally, I'm a fan of people who notice details.