|Dartmouth Waterfront Trail -- where Alex and I ran this morning|
But do I really need a goal?
Well, I guess I already have one – to run the Toronto Marathon... although, to be honest, it feels more like an excuse than a goal. The question I’m mulling is more – do I really need a time goal? This isn’t my first marathon, so the whole “just finish” goal doesn’t hold much meaning for me. But every other time I’ve had a marathon time goal, I’ve either been totally frustrated if I missed it or not as excited as I’d hoped if I got it.
Part of the problem is that a goal always implies an end. And this is the model of meaning we tend to go by as well. Think of a race – if there were no finish line, it would be meaningless. It would just be folks running and stopping arbitrarily – it would lack the kind of structure needed for comparison between people and between times. So some kind of end is important. But there is a cost to thinking this way: it tends to delay or push part of the value of an activity into the future – or at least makes the present contingent on the future for its value.
When you do this for 200 days – when you push the meaning of each run into the future – you end up plowing more meaning into one event than it can possibly hold. No wonder I was always so frustrated after marathons – I either felt like the past had less meaning if I messed up or that the present wasn’t as meaningful as I’d expected if I succeeded.
Or maybe this is just me being neurotic – goal neurotic. Maybe I can have it both ways – each run can be meaningful in and of itself because it’s a wonderful thing to do in and of itself; at the same time, what happens in each run, how each is structured, can depend on the end goal – which is to run Toronto in under 2:45.
There. I said it. Hid it in a subordinate clause at the end of a sentence.
The point is that I want to relish each run as meaningful and valuable in the present moment. I don’t want to delay its meaning or push it into the future. I don’t want my run to be useful or simply part of a larger whole and not a whole itself. However, this doesn’t mean that I can’t let my goal dictate what kind of run I’m going to do on any particular day – that’s just smart training.
So for those who like goals: mine is sub 2:45. For those who don’t: I’m just running.