Jan 22, 2010

Hard Work is its Own End

Here is an article that I started back in March '09 and never published. It's been sitting as a draft this whole time. I think it's pretty good, so I'm going to dust it off, revise it for what I'm doing currently, and post it now.

My Observation
The more serious I am about something I'd like to accomplish in my running, the less motivated I am.

In the past, I have set aggressive goals. Not what you're used to seeing if you're a reader of this blog, but the kind that are more typical of a runner. Think Boston Qualifier in a specific race, and you'll be on the right track. Almost invariably, they've ended up in failure - and I believe the failure is due to the fact that my training becomes a means to an end, rather than an end in itself.

Working Hard to Accomplish a Goal

Take speedwork. Normally, a runner who wants a BQ will go to the track and run speedwork sessions specifically tailored for that BQ. The speedwork is pain that the runner experiences in order to accomplish some other goal. It's a lot of hard work, and hopefully that results in delayed gratification.

Apply that to any running workout - tempo runs, long runs, hill training - and they all add up to a TON of time spent, working on a goal. People probably get some sense of satisfaction from the training, or perhaps even enjoy it - in fact, I find it hard to imagine a long-term consistent runner who doesn't - but their primary purpose to train is that goal race - otherwise they'd just be running, with no schedule or no plan. Nothing wrong with that, lots of people are like that. They rarely race and probably don't read this blog. For the rest of us, training is a means to an end. If you don't believe me, head to your newsstand and pick up a copy of Runner's World or Running Times. Half of the articles include a training or nutrition plan - usually in the context of a race goal.

Working Hard for Hard Work's Sake

There's something funny about me and hard work - I love hard work - but only for hard work's sake. Speedwork - I usually enjoy doing it, especially when I feel like I'm going to die. But here's the thing - as soon as I do it for some purpose other than to just do it, it gets tedious and the enjoyment goes away. I stop doing it.

I think this is why I enjoy trails so much. Hiking the same trails that I run isn't all that appealing to me. But when I run them, the hard work that goes into running up a hill unthinkably steep to the regular asphalt runner, or running down a rocky technical trail, or just zoning out in the solitude - the hard work - it actually becomes the reward.


And when I really think about it, I love to race for the social aspects of it, not for the competitive or the race itself. Looking at what races I'm interested in for 2010, a common denominator is that friends are planning on them as well - and going gives me an opportunity to see them and hang out. The culture lends itself to friendliness. The race is thus just the context of a get-together.

This isn't to say that the race itself has the same significance as a daily training run - it has more. This is evident just looking at my log. Clearly, I run extra hard or extra long on race days. However, I wonder if it's merely the mini-competitions in the back of the race pack - something unique to racing - that motivate me. Contrary to better advice, I tend to put in hard efforts on my daily runs - not quite race efforts apparently, but I'm definitely neglecting the easy days that runners are supposed to take in between hard days. The only difference between a routine training run and a race, therefore, is the competition.

One Day at a Time

So how do I apply this observation to goals that I have, and that I don't want to give up? Specifically, the goal of running every day this year? A friend, who is a cancer patient, said last week about his prognosis, "Today, then tomorrow. Nothing more." I thought that was a great attitude and I hope I'm not neglecting the significance of his situation by borrowing that mentality for my running goal. As of today I'm 22 days down and 343 days to go. That is a hopelessly long time for all but the most goal-driven people I know. But if I can manage to focus on Today, Then Tomorrow - Nothing More, perhaps I will find success come December 31.

New entries for Steve's blog are published every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 10:00am NY time and can be seen at http://www.tursi.com

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