Wednesday, August 6, 2014

I'm a Goal-Oriented Runner

My name is David, and I’m a runner.  Running is my passion in life.  I have other interests, but running is the one that defines me.  When people ask me what I do for a living, I’m sometimes hesitant to answer, because I don't want my career to define me.  My career is a part of my life, but it's not what I'm all about.

I’m also a writer.  I’m not a professional writer, but I enjoy writing about my experiences.  In December of 2010, I ran the Reggae Marathon in Jamaica.  I was so excited about that race that I sent emails to two of my friends, telling them why I liked it.  They each encouraged me to share my experiences in other races.  At the time, I was relatively new to Facebook.  It occurred to me that I should also share my race experiences with my Facebook friends.

Since the beginning of 2011, I’ve written race reports after all my races.  At first, I posted them on Facebook as notes.  I also emailed them a few friends who weren’t on Facebook.  I have other friends with running blogs, and I often thought about starting a blog.  The biggest thing holding me back was not having a theme.  Obviously my blog is about running, but there are lots of running blogs.  What was going to be different about mine?

I’m a goal-oriented runner.  People run for a variety of reasons.  My motivation for running has changed throughout my life, but I’ve always been most excited about running when I was pursuing a goal.  That’s not to say that I don’t enjoy running for its own sake.  I do.  I enjoy it more, however, when I see each run as one step toward a larger goal.

I started running when I was in college.  Some of my friends used to go to the track every two weeks to race a mile.  They were running for fitness.  The point of the races was to give everyone an objective way of measuring their progress.  The first time I ran in one of those informal one mile races, I went in with no training.  I ran my heart out.  After I finished, I was so out of breath that I was laying on the grass in pain.  Two thoughts entered my head.  The first was, “I never want to feel this bad again.”  The second was, “I wonder how much faster I’ll be in two weeks, after doing some training.”  The answer was 20 seconds.

Eventually, one of my friends introduced me to 10K races.  By the time I graduated, I was running marathons.  I looked forward to the races.  Sometimes the challenge was to run faster.  Other times the challenge was to run farther.  I always wanted to set a new PR, whether it was reaching a new distance or running a familiar distance faster than I had ever run it before.

You can’t always set PRs.  That’s something I had to accept as I got older.  I was still in my mid-twenties, but I was working full-time.  I was also in a relationship with my future wife, Deb.  I put running on the back burner.  I got out of shape, and I started gaining weight.  When I started running again, my motivation was different.  I knew it would be a long time before I would set another PR.  First, I had to lose the weight.  I still had a goal, but it wasn’t as much fun.  It seemed more like work.  Instead of running to challenge myself, I was running out of necessity.

I’ve been running for over 30 years.  I’ve run a lot of races.  When I was younger, they were mostly 5K and 10K races.  Now I mostly run marathons.  Sometimes I run ultramarathons.  With shorter races, I only felt a sense of accomplishment if I set a new PR.  With marathons and ultras, just crossing the finish line gives me a sense of accomplishment.  If I can set a PR or place in my age group, that’s an added bonus.

When I started running marathons, the conventional wisdom was that you could only run one per year.  You would train for six months, taper for three weeks, race and then recover.  Recovery meant taking it easy for a month or two.  When you were ready to train for the next one, you were essentially starting from scratch.

The problem with letting your training revolve around a race is that after the race, you can experience a letdown.  I’ve heard it described as “post-marathon depression.”  Training for a marathon or ultra takes so much time that you have to structure your life around the training.  When your life revolves around your training and your training revolves around one race, what happens after the race?  There’s a void.  Even if you achieved your goals, you’re left with a sense of loss.

My solution was to always have another race and another goal.  I decided to run marathons in all 50 states.  I’m not the first person to have that goal.  There are so many runners doing this that there are two different clubs dedicated to this goal.  I joined the 50 States Marathon Club.  I wanted to run in at least a few new states each year, so I was planning a year in advance.  By the time I finished one race, I already knew what my next race would be.  I could always look forward to that next race.  In addition, I had a long-term goal that was larger than any one race.  Now, each training run helped prepare me for a race, and each race was a step toward finishing my 50 states goal.

I worked toward that goal for the next 12 years.  Deb and I worked together to pick out the races.  We chose races in places where we could take exciting vacations.  Doing three to five races a year gave me enough flexibility to find races that not only fit our schedules, but also gave us new experiences.

There’s also a disadvantage to having a big goal like running marathons in all 50 states.  What do you do after you finish?  I finished this goal at the Vermont City Marathon in Burlington, VT.  All weekend, my friends were asking me what I was going to do next.  At first, I had no idea.  I found not one, but two answers.  In the next two weeks, I joined two more running clubs.  The first was the 50sub4 club.  The other was Marathon Maniacs.

50sub4 is a club whose members have a goal of not only finishing marathons in each state, but doing so with times under four hours.  I had already finished marathons within four hours in 42 states.  To finish, I needed to repeat eight states and run faster times.  I figured out that I could schedule marathons in all eight states within the next year.

Marathon Maniacs is a club for frequent marathoners.  To join, you need to qualify by either running two marathons within 16 days or three marathons within 90 days.  There are several different levels.  Each is designated by a number of stars and the name of a precious metal.  To reach higher levels, you need to run more marathons within a relative short number of days.  There were also criteria for some levels that took into account whether your races were each in different states or countries.

When I joined Marathon Maniacs, I had already qualified for the Iridium level (4 stars) by running marathons on two consecutive days.  After doing some planning, I set a goal of reaching the Platinum level (8 stars) by running marathons or ultras in 23 different states or countries in 365 days.  My plan included the eight states I needed to finish 50sub4.  Over the course of the next year, I finished both goals.

Since then, I’ve continued this pattern of setting both short-term and long-term goals.  I set challenging goals for each race.  I sometimes challenge myself with more difficult races.  Each training run helps prepare me for an upcoming race.  More often than not, each race is a step toward reaching a long-term goal.

I don’t always reach my goals on the first attempt.  Twice, I’ve had DNFs in 100 mile trail races.  While I was disappointed in those results, it’s good to fail occasionally.  Without the possibility of failure, there can be no success.  I’ll eventually return to those races and finish.

Now that I race more frequently, I never finish a race without having several others scheduled, and I usually have multiple goals.  One of my long-term goals is to run at least 300 lifetime marathons or ultras.  Another is to finish each of the races where I previously had a DNF.

I live in Minnesota, where it’s cold and icy in the winter.  I can only find races close to home for about half of each year.  To race year-round, I need to travel.  Fortunately, I enjoy traveling.  Running marathons has given me an excuse to travel all over the United States.  I’ve also starting exploring other countries.  Seeing new and exciting places adds an extra dimension to my races.

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