Running can be a big goal-oriented numbers game, pushing for that next PR. That certainly is how I began my training cycle leading to CIM. I did not just want a personal record, I wanted a moonshot qualifying time for Boston. I was determined, focused, and coached, … and then as the weeks passed I was diverted by travel, an injury, and a series of work deadlines that in combination left me questioning everything about the race including my motivation, commitment, and whether I even had it in me to finish. Vanished were my dreams of a massive PR, replaced instead with simple resolve to go out and just do my best, My Personal Best, given where I found myself in the moment.
Functionally, a Personal Record is the same as a Personal Best. They simply represent your best time or performance in a given distance. But conceptually, I believe them to be distinct. When I approached the CIM start line, it was too much for me to think about a time goal or PR. At the start and again and again during the race, my focus instead was simply on this: doing my personal best. In that moment, in that mile, am I pushing myself to be my best self? To stretch beyond what is comfortable? To embrace all of the lessons that this experience offers? To do everything I can to ensure that when I get to the finish line I can turn around and know with absolute certainty that on that day I left everything I had to offer out on the course. On CIM race day, I let go of the hard numbers and embraced the mantra of running the best race that I could.
As it turned out, on that particular day, my Personal Best was, indeed, my Personal Record. By nearly 13 minutes over 26.2 miles.
I wonder, had I focused on a particular finish time on that day instead of a commitment to do my best in the moment, would I have enjoyed the same result? With almost total certainty, no. By mile 18, my mile splits were slipping and any original goal time started to move from illusive to impossible. If I was stuck on the numbers when my body and mind were exhausted, would I have had it in me to resist the temptation to just say “fuck it”, give up, and just coast in the rest of the way? Doubtful.
But, having let go of the numbers at the start, what I did have that day was the ability to check in with my body, in the moment, almost every moment, throughout the race. What do I have in me? What downhill can I push, what crowd can I feed off of, what nutrition can I offer my body to refuel? Run steady, run forward, run to your full ability with everything your body has to give in that moment.
Run your personal best.
And I did.
In the weeks since the race, I have thought a lot about the experience and, as we move into the New Year, about lessons I can glean from it as I work on goal setting for 2018. Historically, I have focused on concrete resolutions that, in large part, can be objectively measured either as a success or failure. There is the time-honored favorite of “lose ### pounds”, or exercise ### days a week, run a (insert time goal here) 10k or marathon, write ### posts or articles per month, bill ### hours per year. In so many respects, the numbers game serves an important role, giving us concrete goals to shoot for and decreasing the temptation to negotiate against yourself for a better (easier) option. But if those fixed goals start to slip away, and success in hitting numerical targets starts to feel impossible, what then? You are left with fighting feelings of failure that come with falling short and that, surely, is both counterproductive and destructive.
I still have big, aspirational goals, but in 2018, my focus is on process and committing myself to living my personal best with everything that I have to bring to bear in the moment. Running goals will expand to include an equal concentration on nutrition, balance, cross training, and mental training – things that are more intangible than the pace-and-miles numbers game, but are essential if I am to improve. As in running, so in life, my guiding principle in 2018 will be to do those things that represent my personal best effort toward any given goal. Success is embedded in the process of committing, daily, to maximizing the moment that I am in. And then doing it again and again so that in the end I can turn around and say, with confidence …
I have lived my personal best.