Goals and resolutions keep circling through my mind with this transition phase of my life and the new year. I consider myself a goal-oriented person but what does that truly mean? Am I happy only when I achieve my goals? Can I find peace when I fall short? Or is there a joy when I’m in the process of working towards a goal?
When I coached swimming, I tried to teach fundamental concepts about goal setting based off what I was taught as a competitive swimmer and what I learned through experience. It’s been a few years since I reexamined what goals meant to me. At one point, goals were my obsession. I broke down every split 25 yard of a 400 yard race and could recite the different paces I held every workout throughout a season. As mentioned before, triathlons gave a new chance to have a healthy outlook on goals but over the past few years I developed an aversion to setting goals I truly cared about. It can crush your spirit to give “blood, sweat, and tears” towards something and fall short.
I can vividly remember one season training my heart out for a Junior National Qualifying time in the 400 IM (100 yards butterfly, 100 yards backstroke, 100 yards breaststroke, 100 yards freestyle). I needed to drop 4 seconds in order to make the qualifying time, which was a stretch but a reasonable goal given the right training. As luck would have it, I became really sick as the last qualifying swim meet approached. Obviously, there was no way I would drop out of the competition. Regardless of a sore throat and general malaise, I dropped 2 seconds. Under normal circumstances, 2 seconds is a big drop in the pool but it was still 2 seconds short of my goal. To add insult to injury, one of my teammates swam the same event and qualified for Junior Nationals only minutes later. I should have been happy for her but I was only jealous and my heart was crushed…I hadn’t swam fast enough. All that work and I didn’t qualify. That night my fever ran to 104 F but that was no excuse in my 16 year old mind for not achieving something I’d worked months for in the pool and visualized millions of times. What was all that work and dedication for anyways?!
When I considered signing up for the ING Miami marathon a few months ago, a Boston Qualifying time, a 3:35 for my age group, was on the forefront of my mind. Unlike age group swimming, running and triathlons don’t have as many time based goals so Boston has its appeal because not just anybody can qualify. This is a significant drop from the 4:05 marathon I ran in 2009 but I knew following an actual training plan there was a chance.
Well, life happens sometimes and following a training plan has never been my strong point. I’ve hit more long runs than I did back in 2009 but the race is only 3 weeks away and 26.2 miles isn’t something you just wing (unless you are crazy and I know quite a few crazy people). So am I disappointed that my goal of qualifying probably won’t happen at the end of this month? Yes. Am I crushed in the same way I was at 16? Not at all. The race hasn’t happened yet but I have adjusted my goal towards a more realistic 3:50 (still a 15 minute drop) and will set my sights on another marathon in the near future.
This time around I learned a lot about myself as a runner and really have to take into consideration what has been happening in my life over the past few months. At 16 years old, running a 104 F fever was not a good enough excuse for falling short of a goal. At 25 years old, moving, graduating, job searching, studying for boards, and a few other life changes are good enough reasons for me to adjust goals. Sometimes life happens and you have to stay on course without excuses when working towards certain destinations. Sometimes, you have to realize that some goals aren’t the end-all and be-all of life.
I train and race because it enhances my quality of life and to learn about myself and pushing my limits each season. My self worth, however, doesn’t depend on achieving goals I’ve imposed on myself anymore the way it did when I was 16. My joy is truly in the process of trying to achieve those goals.