Twice this week I have had conversations about setting goals in running.
The first was with El Profesor, where an exasperated me piped up: How is it that I can apply for hundreds of jobs that I am perfectly qualified for and not get a single one of them, whereas I can wake up one morning and decide that I am going to run a 10K in under 56 minutes and I just go out there and do it?
The answer is clear: one is within my control, and the other is subject to the discretion of someone – or several someones – else.
The second time it came up was with La Madre Del Profesor. She asked if I have always set such precise goals for myself.
My answer was that I really haven’t. Outside of running, throughout my life my goals were more generalized. I am going to pursue X, and I am going to do it as well as I can. I’d like to be the best at it, but you know, we’ll see.
I don’t know how well I rationalized that when I was younger. Because I can certainly remember several instances of fist-pounding-on-the-floor frustration and disappointment in myself when I didn’t achieve one of those “broad, generalized goals” (or more accurately, when I achieved the goal but was not the best) that I can write so simply about now.
Yet, by the time I had reached the last several years of my academic career, I was contented to pursue something and simply to do MY best at it.
A lot of that is because, from a practical standpoint, how good you are is subjective.
Sure, I took great pride in getting the highest grade in my class. But by then I knew that on a different day, any one of my equally capable peers might have achieved the same feat. I knew by then, as I know now, that I can only strive to propel myself forward, not to chase down and beat others.
Running is great because no matter how many people are racing the course, there is only one person out there that I have got to beat: ME.
Competing against other runners won’t help me achieve my PR.
Running is filled with terms and phrases focusing on personal achievement: PR (personal record), PDR (personal distance record), PB (personal best…or peanut butter, if you’re hungry).
Even on the days when one of my “equally capable peers” applies for and actually secures a job that I wanted, I can still wake up and say that I am going to run a sub 8:00 mile in my training this morning…and just go out there and do it.
In law practice and in life, there is no way for me to precisely calculate my value or how much I have improved, or get a clear sense of where I stand with respect to others on the course. In running I can do that. In running, I can set a time to beat or a distance to run past.
Any time I run faster or farther, it is an achievement that I can clearly mark.
Perhaps I cling to running because it is an area of my life in which I can quantify my achievements.
Perhaps it is because when I run I don’t judge my own shortcomings. I am simply free.
Or maybe it is because running is the one thing I can do that I am sure will get me somewhere.