Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Connection, Competition and the Concept of Potential

My niece took me trail running this Thanksgiving. (Camp Pendleton Marine Corps Base)

On Saturday, I went for a 10ish mile run to decide if I am capable of racing a 50k this weekend. Now, ask me if determining ‘where you’re at’ based on one workout is a good idea.

No. No it’s not.

Anyway, point is: I’m really glad I went for that run for a variety of reasons that have nothing to do with whether or not I am physically capable of running a race next weekend. But everything to do with being mentally capable. The fact of the matter is, I’ve been running by myself for the majority of the last 3 or 4 months, and most of the time I just zone out and go back and forth between thinking about the workout and life. However, on this particular day, I was being what you might call, observant.

This was largely due to the fact that I elected to stay in town and run the grass down San Vicente to the pier and back. Even with the holiday and the 40 degree weather (this is LA, people), the herds were out in full force. LA Marathon training groups, families, kids, dogs, strollers, cyclists… it’s funny, I used to get annoyed by all the action and only craved the solitude of the mountains. To be honest, I viewed these people as “in my way”.* But I guess because I haven’t run this particular route in probably 5 or 6 months, I actually marveled at how many people were out being active. And how many people were running. More proof that humans were made to run, and I’m just happy everyone is figuring it out. I smiled with the feeling that regardless of pace, ability, distance, physique or any other defining quality – we were all out there enjoying a run together.

*Yes I am aware how asshole-ish that sounds, but I’m proving a point. Read on…

Just as quickly as my feelings of connection came, so did the air of difference. As I turned off San Vicente into Palisades Park along the cliffs, I noticed a small pack of fast looking men with bibs, and a pace vehicle. My excellent skills in deductive reasoning quickly lead me to the conclusion that “hey, there’s some sort of race going on!” Not too long after, the thrones of entrants running the Santa Monica Turkey Trot filled Ocean Avenue. Running against traffic on the dirt path began to create a bit of a dizzying effect, and I was overwhelmed with a feeling of complete and utter separation. I watched the blur of smiling, chatting faces passing by and just felt entirely different from this world I was running in. I was flying against the stream, both literally and metaphorically. In my life, I was never content to be a part of anything normal. I was never happy with what others deemed an “achievement”. I set those terms. And while I’ve spent a lot of time lately considering that perhaps these terms are unreasonable or unseasonably high, and even envying others who were able to just be happy with whatever outcome they were given for their efforts - in this moment I was at ease with my curse… maybe even pleased.

Soon after the race had passed, I noticed a family of runners heading towards me on the dirt path. A legit-looking dad and his two sons. The elder son was blessed with his father’s physique – tall, thin and legs that went on for miles*. He was out front, head held high, blazing ahead. The younger son was much closer to the ground, his stride was shorter, he didn’t appear as naturally able as his brother. He held back with his dad, running about 200 yards behind. I thought, wow, I bet that is driving that little kid nuts that he can’t keep up with his brother. Poor thing – it’s not his fault – he just doesn’t have as much experience and hasn’t grown into his own yet. He’s probably so frustrated.

*no, I was not checking out a 12-year-old.

And then I realized that the kid was smiling. It wasn’t affecting him. It was affecting me. Why? Because deep down, I’m the little guy. I will be the first one to admit that I’m not naturally blessed with a perfect runner's body or any sort of superhuman qualities. That’s not to say I have zero talent (which I used to think) or zero propensity – it’s just not quite as much as that upper echelon of women that I so admire in this sport. What I do have is potential… I just have to work a little harder to get there.

Unfortunately, that takes time. And my whole problem is that while I know, I have not yet accepted that I am the little guy. I just want so badly to be the big brother - faster, better, the best. A few miles later, after I’d turned around and was heading back up the incline, I saw the little brother. Still with his dad; still that same look of complacency, running strong down the hill. At first I thought I’d missed the older of the two – but then I noticed him running about a minute and a half back, form deteriorated and looking altogether defeated.

Did I learn a lesson from a seven-year-old? Yes, I did. What I learned was to be confident in my abilities. What I learned was to stop incessantly comparing. What I learned was patience. In fact, I think less and less that my whole problem is setting unreasonable goals – it’s setting an unrealistic time range. In other words – I believe (as the saying goes) I can have it all, I just can’t have it all right now. You know what? I’m not even just talking running anymore. I think that one of my largest barriers to happiness in life is a lack of patience. “Love is patient…” I think I finally get it, Corinthians.

I am reminded of a past conversation in which I said aloud, something to the tune of this:

"I don’t think I have as much natural ability as some other people; I just work really hard. And I’d rather have it that way than to have lots of talent and no drive."

And the truth is, the only thing that’s missing right now is the work. Have I really gone there? Have I trained like an elite ultrarunner? The short answer is no. And that’s a problem, because the reality is that I have to train even harder than them to get to that level. My feelings are best expressed in MS Paint graphical format, which you can find here:

I can explain this further if it is confusing. But I think my drawing skills have done a pretty good job...

So guess what? I’m going to go there. I’m going to train my ass off and I’m going to get to the end of that bell curve if it kills me. And I WILL do it too. When? Well now that’s what I have to leave to wind…

*Oh, as for racing this Sunday? I have no idea.

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