Running long, and the dilemma of plausible goals

I ran the Philadelphia half-marathon early this morning. I ran it several minutes faster than I ran it two years ago. Despite having walked a mile from my car to the start, and then a mile back, and then spending much of the rest of the day on my feet, I don’t feel that sore. Tired, yes, but not particularly banged up. I made the well-known tactical race error of running the first few miles way under my target race pace. But even though I started too fast, my last few miles weren’t much over race pace.

Which means that my target race pace was probably too slow. Indeed, I have had a sneaky suspicion during my recent training that I have not been pushing myself. I’ve kept track of minutes, not miles, so I don’t know my pace. And to be honest, I haven’t even kept track of my minutes that closely. If I wanted to start running, and racing, faster, that is probably something I could do. I could train for a very fast half-marathon. I could probably train for another full marathon and get a faster time than I did in my first.

But here’s the question: do I want to do that? Running is how I keep in shape, but the way I run is also very pleasant for me. I use that time to figure out how to frame arguments, to mull different ideas, and to enjoy being outside. I have done the drills necessary to get faster before — those 8x800m track repeats that make you want to vomit in between and after — and I can tell you that is not pleasant.

Such is the dilemma of plausible goals. I have no illusion that I will be an astronaut. While at one point many many years ago I thought I might want to go to medical school, or run for office, neither of these holds much appeal to me anymore. But running a sub 2-hour half marathon? With a lot of really, really, hard work, that might be doable. But just because something is doable doesn’t mean it should be done. Plausible goals are always harder to let go than ones that fit more in the fantasy category.

Have you ever abandoned a plausible goal? Why did you decide to do so?

Photo of Philadelphia courtesy flickr user Seth W. I was too busy running to snap any photos this morning.

10 thoughts on “Running long, and the dilemma of plausible goals

  1. Congrats on the half-marathon! I love the way you’ve described this internal predicament – many of us always want to run faster because we know we probably can…but that doesn’t make the effort it takes to get there any more appealing! I rarely, if ever, do speed-work when training and then find that the most effective way to run faster is to run with friends. It’s social, distracting, more fun and a great way to stay motivated. I would choose keeping up with a faster friend over the track repeats any day 😉

    1. @Heather – thanks for your comment. It’s an interesting question of what I would consider a satisfying motivation to run faster. I agree that having a fast training partner might make the speed goal rise up through the list, especially if that was a relationship I wanted to nurture. But what are the reasons that goals shift order? Hmm…

  2. I really like this post and think this might make an interesting book or more writings. If you are more type A and driven and also for parents this comes up a lot. I could do this but do I want to? And of all the things I could do better, which should I ?
    I would like to run 1/2 every day or an hour and I love yoga and would like to teach my kids to ski and get back into tennis. But you have to decide what makes sense when… Teaching my 4 year old to ski makes sense if someone can take my baby on the tubing but can also wait until he is 4 and she is 6… sometimes that reflection can help you to say hey is this something I should be doing… I think also how can we teach this to kids and employees… and how do you promote a mindset of hardwork that makes sense in the larger scheme of things, not just hardwork b/c that project was available to be done etc.

  3. This is something I talk about with friends a lot and you frame it well. I agree with Cara that this would be an interesting topic to get more of your thoughts on. I struggle with the “just because I can doesn’t mean I should” issue professionally, personally, and in parenting. I know that the solution probably is to have long range goals and plans and purpose statements, but sometimes that is hard to pin down.

    1. @Catherine and Cara – I’ll mull some other essays on the topic. I do think that this question of what to go all in on is tricky. I certainly think the grand number for most people is more than one thing (which is why I cringe at the “can’t have it all” literature) but it probably isn’t more than, oh, 5. You could go all in on a work goal, some family goals, a personal goal like a running time, but then something else (say, singing) might suffer. Hmm.

  4. Is it urgent? Is it important? Does it fit within my constraints? What happens if I don’t do this? What chance of success do I have?

    That’s how I pick my battles on a day-to-day basis. Would my twins learn to stay dry night through the night sooner without Pull-Ups? Probably. Would that mean two extra loads of laundry every day? Yes. Would I rather do two extra loads of laundry or buy Pull-Ups and assume they’ll stay dry when they’re older regardless of what I choose?

    The big constraint in my life is my children’s routine and the fact that my husband lacks the willingness/ability to maintain it even when he’s home. That means I’m always primary parent. But he doesn’t suffer the consequences when the routine (supper at roughly the same time, bedtime at roughly the same time) is broken. Such is life.

  5. We all have to make choices based on how our utility functions hit our budget constraints.
    That’s one of those gifted conundrums, right? I remember one of my children’s books, the “smart” (male) mystery solving twin vocally worried about which lucky occupation to devote his considerable genius to as an adult. There’s just not enough time to transform everything. I suppose one could try phasic sleeping, but that is just so limiting in that when it’s time to nap you fall asleep no matter what else is going on. And it is unpopular with family members.

  6. I just read a bunch of your posts together, and it seems like this is the one that really speaks to having it all. You have to decide when good enough really is good enough.

  7. Isn’t this just another form of time management? You could do A but you’d have to give up B and C or the opportunity to do D.

    Either way, I think this is an important skill to learn, particularly as the amount of time and energy you need to spend on mastering a skill is usually more than you bargained for and results are never guaranteed.

    The biggest ‘plausible goal’ I’ve ever decided not to go for is a first in my BA. I knew I could get a 2:1 (next level down) while continuing all the ‘extras’ (job, writing club, domestic violence campaigning, sleep, social life…) I was interested in but that getting a first would require absolute devotion for my entire final year, with no guarantee. So I didn’t. And I think I made a little difference to several things I thought were important, and I think that the grade made little difference to what happened next.

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