On not running the Philadelphia marathon

In an alternate universe, I would have run the Philadelphia Marathon this past weekend. Since my 1100-day running streak ended with the birth of my fifth child, the marathon was going to be a new running goal to inspire me. While it would have been challenging, I did believe I could make the time. I ran Big Sur in 2010 when I had a 2-year-old and a 7-month-old. Days have the exact same 24 hours as they did when I managed that training.

Then most major races ended up canceled because of Covid. I did not find the idea of training for and running 26.2 miles absent the course, crowds, and water stations exciting. And so I let the whole thing go. This past weekend I ran 3 miles both weekend days. I know I can do 10 mile long-runs (I’ve done that a few times this fall) but 10 miles and 3 miles are a fair ways down from marathon-level fitness.

But so it goes. I know, as the calendar wends toward brumal* weather, that many people are contemplating setting goals for 2021. I know that many people also feel that 2020 has soured them on the project. Is there any point in setting goals when it’s quite possible that goals will have to change?

My answer: If 2020 is the first time your goals have needed to change, you have led a fairly charmed life! Life is always unknowable. We are spinning on an improbable planet in the middle of cold and inhospitable space. On a less existential level, the ordinary coarse of illnesses, job changes, relationship changes, the miraculous but not always predictable appearance of children and such can alter any plans.

So it goes. The upside of making goals and plans is that doing so lets us articulate our hopes. We can see what matters to us. We make space for these things even if the timing and the particulars need to change.

I have been thinking of this as I look over my goals for 2020.

Some happened. We adjusted to becoming a family of seven! I went outside for 20 minutes a day all winter. We went on a family leaf-peeping trip in the fall. I got a book deal (if you count The New Corner Office, I signed contracts for two). I hoped to “execute on a housing decision and embrace it” in Q3 and lo and behold, our offer on the new house was accepted in August.

Some had to change forms. I listed a Q2 personal goal of going to the Bach festival in Leipzig, and while that did not happen, it’s interesting to me that I listed the goal as “Bach festival” and not as “Germany trip” or anything like that. Knowing that it is the Bach part that is the lure inspired me to sign up for a combination lecture plus virtual sing-along that a local music group is doing on the Bach B-Minor mass. As for Mommy Days with the kids, the point was to spend time with the less demanding (i.e. older) kids. Thanks to Covid and hybrid/virtual schooling, I’m eating lunch with my teen and pre-teen children most days, usually while the little ones are out of the house.

As for the marathon, this is a reminder that I like to run, and I like to run long, and it’s worth prioritizing a longer outside run in my time. I don’t set goals like “find a fun new fitness class” or “join a sports team.” As long as running is working for me, I don’t need to go seeking or wondering about something else. I can just run — whether that’s 26.2 miles, or 3.

*”Relating to winter; wintry.” New word in my vocabulary and I am using it whenever possible.

10 thoughts on “On not running the Philadelphia marathon

  1. I can relate to your commitment to goal-setting no matter what is swirling around you. Our nuclear family had already experienced a lot of change in the 18 months leading up to COVID.; other people’s lives looked very charmed compared to what we were dealing with. At first, COVID felt like more gas on the fire, but we can now look back and see many things accomplished, relationships deepened, and plenty of personal growth. On a light-hearted note, 2020 reunited me with my childhood love of tennis. Our no-frills club was one of the few things open throughout, and with some limitations I’ve been able to take lessons and play doubles regularly while keeping up CrossFit at the local box that has gone to great lengths to keep outdoor spots open and modify the WODs. Our “normal” routine would have kept me making excuses to play tennis for years, and I could have used COVID as an excuse to watch my fitness decline. Instead, maintaining my fitness is keeping resentment at bay and helping me cope and contribute positively to my work and home environments.

  2. I totally understand your shift with the marathon. I was originally planning to run a marathon in October and 3 weeks into training it got cancelled. There was another small marathon that got scheduled locally in the fall as well, but I had already stopped my longer training plan and the lack of participants/spectators does change the feel. Now I’m crossing my fingers that next fall we get more “normal” marathons back on the calendar so I can attempt to qualify for Boston!
    I also appreciate your perspective on your goals for the year and how they look different in this COVID environment!

  3. Dear Laura,
    I love the way how you look at things… !!! The ‘fairly charmed life’ made me smile! If you ever go to Leipzig, let’s meet, I just live an hour away! I leave the more demanding kids at home (I guess all four ;)). Have a nice week, love, Anke (from Riesa)

  4. I reckon the whole point of setting goals is that they will change once you reach them. On or before schedule.

    If not, you change the time aspect of them. Or the whole goal, if you get into it and discover along the way that it’s not your cup of tea.

    I like fluid goals (and reaching them).

  5. I feel like my goals (choosing which ones to set, and changing as needed) are one of the few things I can control. I appreciate your perspective!

    I also think that we have a small advantage going into 2021, versus 2020–while we certainly can’t know what the year will hold, we’re (mostly) adjusted to life in Covid times and can set our goals accordingly—with the hope that they’ll be able to expand as the year moves on.

  6. I am treating 2021 goals as a kick in the pants to go through some 100 Dreams list – and make doing some of those my goals. That will help me feel from a feeling of stagnation – which I acutely felt this year.

  7. I could talk fitness-related goals all day! I used to have a pretty regimented schedule of running three days and two specific strength classes at the Y each week. Well, life often happened and I found myself frustrated at coming up with different ways to exercise. One year I listed “try three new fitness classes” as a resolution. I didn’t really enjoy the first class I tried (but it was still a 30 minute workout!) but absolutely loved the second one and ended up changing my routine since it was a more efficient workout. (And also reinforced the lesson that trying new things can be rewarding). I also did a two-month running streak this summer during a very busy season. I couldn’t make most exercise happen then but I could use that time to try out what it was like to run a minimum of one mile every day.
    Also–I’d love it if BOBW could someday host a virtual running event!

  8. i can totally relate about running is the only fitness goal I keep/need because of how much i simply love it. my berlin marathon was cancelled too. bummer. first I thought running it alone on my birthday to say I’ve done it this year, but without the crown, i didn’t see the point so I canceled my “backup” plan.
    still haven’t made any big plans for 2021 because actually I like our life post-covid, simple, slow, family time above all.

    1. Yes!!! I feel this way too. Not everything about post-covid is great but the slow family life is really wonderful.

      I too had a race goal this year that i dropped. (Half) but probably not going to make a goal next year, just run and enjoy it. Have other areas i need to work on / change.

  9. Laura, I hope you get to run the Philadelphia race again in the future. It is one of my favorites and I have traveled there from Birmingham several times to do it. It has been an unusual year for running races, but I have been able to do over 10 marathons or ultramarathons since January, with most coming after the arrival of the virus. These were smaller races and they all had some precautions to reduce or eliminate contact between participants and volunteers. I was just glad to be able to continue running and seeing people, even if “distanced:. I just have to be able to walk away if things don’t appear safe.

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