Remember This.

The fear of failing the marathon is pervasive and crushing, and it really doesn’t have to be that way. For those of us who are NOT elites, NOT relying on our finish times to feed our families and keep our houses, there really is no way to fail. But the idea that your marathon finish time actually says something meaningful about you seems to go largely unexamined. It’s okay to want to get fitter and stronger and faster; it’s okay to want to break four hours in the marathon someday (I do!) and it’s okay to want to qualify for Boston or qualify for the Olympic Trials or whatever your heart desires. I wish so very, very much, though, that we could hold these desires in our hearts without letting them run our lives or feel like we’re failing when we don’t achieve them this time.

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A goal without a goal

When nothing has to mean anything, it feels like there are no limits. Would it be fun to run to the top of Arlington Heights? Would it be unbearable? Would I have to walk? How steep would it be, really? I used to look up at Gray Street from Pleasant Street, if I were ever running in that direction, and think to myself, “Nope.” From the bottom, Gray Street looks like a straight shot to the sky. You can’t see the top; you can barely see the top of the first huge rise (and there are three, of which the first is the smallest). Even in times of peak fitness, hills that steep used to scare me. On the many occasions that I’ve gone running in my parents’ neighborhood, in nearby Belmont, I’ve avoided Arlington Heights like it was Mordor. Heart rate cap or no heart rate cap, I have never been fit enough to approach those hills with anything resembling calm. It wasn’t that I was calm about them this time, either; they are objectively scary, and I knew there was no way they wouldn’t be challenging to climb. The feeling-in-chief, though, was one of curiosity. How was this going to go?

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