Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Running at the Football

"No battle plan survives contact with the enemy”
Adapted from Helmuth von Moltke the Elder, German militarist

Reading back over what I have written in this space for the past few years, many of the posts seem to present a litany of unmet goals, unfinished races, and disastrous training experiences. To wit:

I dropped out of the Comrades Marathon at km 55.
I dropped out of the Race Across the West after cycling about 40% of the distance.
I crashed my bike training for Ironman Canada in 2010 and broke my collarbone.
In my last two trips to Death Valley I have not completed the distance I started out to do.
At Ironman Canada last year, I ended up walking about two-thirds of the marathon.
Although I have completed several marathons in the past few years, I have not come close to setting a personal best for the distance, something I had wanted to accomplish before I got too old.

Should've Stayed Home Today
Of course there are reasons for all these shortfalls: dehydration, pinched nerves, unscheduled bike crashes, extreme weather and so forth. And in fact, a failure to finish has never stopped me from planning the next challenge. There has always been an instilled desire to go back and try again (which is even stronger if you don’t get it right the first time).

But as much as I like setting goals, I like actually accomplishing them even more. What good is dreaming of a goal if I so often fail to achieve it? These past few years have left me thinking that either I am setting the bar too high for myself or else that I am lacking whatever it takes to succeed.

I’m starting to get the feeling that I do not have The Right Stuff. Inveterate goal setter though I might be, I seem to lack the single-minded focus to pursue some goals whatever the cost. When the medic in the South African race told me that I could damage my foot if I kept on running, I believed him and stopped. When my body told me in graphically physical terms that my participation in the Race Across the West was over, I listened, got off my bike (fell off, rather) and stopped riding.

And if I were climbing to the summit of Everest and someone told me it would be best to turn back, I would probably turn back and head down the hill, leaving the summit unconquered and all my toes still attached.

Thus my growing list of DNFs and compromised goals. I still dream of doing extraordinary things, but these days I am starting to doubt that I can realistically do them.

I am getting tired of falling on my face. Lately I have felt like Charlie Brown, running over and over again to try to kick a football that gets yanked away every single time.

And yet…

A Finish is a Finish

I don’t feel like a complete failure. The DNFs, although devastating at the time they occurred, have provided me with some of the most vivid experiences in my life, and have taken me to athletic venues and limits I had never dreamed of. Perhaps the lesson I should take from the football story is not that Charlie Brown keeps getting fooled, but that he believes with all his heart that this time he will succeed. And as the saying goes, you only have to pick yourself up one more time than you fall.

So for now, I will keep running at the football, because while I believe that achieving a goal might be what affirms our strength, I also believe that the optimistic run-up to that precise instant of kicking—when everything is still possible—is what keeps us alive.