Strategically unfocused

I alluded to this in my last post, but now that it’s May—which is race month, people (!)—I’m beginning to think just a liiiiiiiiiiittle bit more about the Newport Marathon here in a handful of weeks and how I’m feeling going into it, what my (rough) expectations and hopes and dreams are at this point, and ya know, the usual, healthy things to think about, like “fuck, am I prepared???” and the ever-popular “why, exactly, am I running another marathon??” sentiment.

As I’m writing (and thus, thinking) about my running and this cycle on a macro-level, since really, that’s why I write about my running in the first place–writing makes me dwell less on the micro and forces me to think more macro—I think the best way that I can characterize my training and my running right now is that I’m feeling (being?) strategically unfocused.

In my last post, I wrote that I almost feel like I’m being ambivalent about my training for Newport in the 10 weeks post-Oakland.

I kinda don’t buy this sentiment.

If I were being ambivalent:

  • I wouldn’t be predawning almost daily;

  • I wouldn’t be stressing my body with a heavy volume of miles each week;

  • I wouldn’t be subscribing to Pfitz again, whose plans, while sound, are taxing;

  • and more than anything, if I were being ambivalent, I wouldn’t care. Truly. I’d be completely detached, and if I’m detached, I wouldn’t partake… and hell, I’d probably abstain entirely.

if you don't care, then you don't run around an oval in the dark. note: this is what it looked like as I was leaving.
if you don’t care, then you don’t run around an oval in the dark. note: this is what it looked like as I was leaving.

It has been refreshing to go through this cycle so far without this sense of pressure looming over me, pressure that, of course, is only self-inflicted, but I think it has also thrown me for a loop. I get that my running, and my goals, and my training, and my races matter the most to me and not anyone else—and that’s great, and of course, how I want it–yet at the same time, I wonder how my strategic seeming-but-not-really lack of focus will play out for me come race day. This might be a bit premature to begin considering, but I kinda can’t help it right now.

Strangely, it really makes me think of my second Masters program, my MA. I applied to the program at DePaul when I was still working there full-time, pre-baby, and I applied on a whim because a) DePaul would pay nearly 100% (again) for my Masters numero dos, b) I thought it’d be cool to earn another Masters (I had just finished my MS a couple months earlier) kinda for the hell of it and in writing/rhetoric/discourse, stuff I’ve loved for as long as I remember, and c) I’m pretty sure I was bored at work and wrote my entrance essay over my lunch break.

with my gal Traci here. Masters #2 for her, Masters #1 for me.
with my gal Traci here. Masters #2 for her, Masters #1 for me. I love the magicians’ hats. Sadly, I didn’t walk for Masters #2 since… ya know, I had a four-week old at home.

When I applied to my MA program, I felt like I had nothing to lose. If I got in—and I suspected I would—that’d be awesome, and hey, free higher education. You can’t go wrong. If I didn’t get in, well, that’d be ok, too. I’d wonder why, of course, but ultimately I’d figure that there was probably a good reason or two that warranted my rejection.

And would you know? I loved my MA program. LOVED. Unlike in my MS program, this time around, I chose not to specialize because (nerd alert) I loved it all too much. Linguistics, sociolinguistics, technical writing, teaching writing, teaching writing to speakers of other languages, rhetoric in the public sphere, issues of power and politics—I wanted it all and all the time. Throughout the program, and to this day, I get dreamy when talking about pursuing a PhD in the field—kinda like I do when I fantasize about going sub-3 in the marathon or (cough) running an ultra (cough)–but as yet, it hasn’t happened. None of it has.

While I may not have allegedly “cared” initially about my MA program, by the end of it, I was a serious fangirl. In fact, during my final class of my MA program, I wrote an essay about, among other things (more nerd alert), my trajectory as a student, writer, and contingent faculty member in WRD (read: adjunct). Without geekin’ out too hard here, since I’ve already done that, I basically wrote exactly what I said above, that I applied somewhat lackadaisically and that I didn’t care if I got in… and once the program accepted me, hey, that’s cool. NBD.

My instructor, Julie, rightfully called bullshit on me straightaway.

I can’t recall exactly what she said to me, but I’m pretty sure she said something along the lines of:

I know you too well. You don’t half-ass. You surely cared about getting in and getting an MA more than you realize or, as is more likely the case, care to admit.”

Yea. She was probably right.

Going through my MA program, while working full-time, and, eventually, after having A, was tiring. I sometimes frequently questioned why I was doing it—after all, I already had my MS, and didn’t I not care about getting an MA, anyway?–but I knew that doing the work would help me later. Granted, I didn’t know how it’d help me, I didn’t necessarily know what I’d want to grow up to become with both an MS and an MA (and I knew that I’d be a SAHM for a bit, anyway), but in my heart of hearts, I knew that bailing wasn’t an option.

At the time, I knew that I’d forever regret not going for it—not completing my MA degree, regardless of (insert excuse here)–and that, come hell or high water, even with balancing full-time employment, completing my TESOL certificate and observation hours, and, eventually, figuring out life with a newborn (and, at the time, a planned relocation to CA never transpired that year), I’d figure it out and simply get shit done. People with schedules and life issues and interruptions and challenges far, far more complicated than mine get shit done all the time; my story wasn’t some beautiful and unique snowflake.

There’s a lot of non-running or non-marathoning-related banter in this post, yet I think that there’s a lot of carry-over here, too. I told myself early on that I didn’t “care” about my MA program, about getting in. If I didn’t care, then why would I elect to go through the motions of graduate school (again) while balancing life and a new family? Surely, I told myself—and even tried to convince my faculty (in a final exam essay… [note to self: that was dumb])–that I didn’t “care” because I wanted the stakes to stay low.

If I didn’t “care,” then failing—however that manifested—wouldn’t sting and burn so much.

Similarly, I think—fuck it, I’ll own this, I know—I care more about how I’ll fare at Newport than I’m letting on. If I keep the stakes low about my next marathon, my next goal race, then in the event I don’t perform how I want, I’m still safe… because I didn’t care.

It’s the whole thing about being vulnerable, about putting ourselves and our goals and our unicorns out there, and navigating the very real possibility that we’ll fail in front of all of humanity, all those thousands of people who know our goals and what we’re after.

Failure—however that manifests—burns and sucks and stings, but you know what burns, sucks, and stings worse?

Regret—of not trying and seeing if, in fact, you’ll falter or, surprise!, realize that which you’re after.

Feeling kinda strategically unfocused right now is a bit weird for me only because while I am chompin’ at the bits to successfully execute my plans in a month, it’s like part of me is insisting that I calm TFD about it, while another part remains a bit obsessed.

It’s as though a big part of me is saying care! Think about this! Dream about this! Envision this on every run! while the other fights any mention or reference to it.

Maybe this is a strange defense mechanism, like I’m protecting myself from the fear of failing on this goal again… or maybe I’m trying to be conservative with my goals and capabilities right now. I really don’t know. At any rate, this is like a weird runner purgatory mental space to be kickin’ it in.

things are getting serious. Easter bunny to the rescue.
things are getting serious. Easter bunny to the rescue.

Perhaps I’ve been stupidly audacious in professing my unicorns of choice this year, and while I honestly don’t feel the same amount of self-inflicted pressure a month out from Newport as I did before Oakland or Chicago or NYC, I think I know myself well enough to know that between now and race day, May 31, I’ll do whatever it takes to get shit done so that I can toe the line in the OR coast with Austin (and you! come!) ready to rock and fuckin’ roll.

At the end of the day, if you care—regardless of the stupid little lies or mindgames you play with yourself—then you get shit done.

If you don’t care, then you don’t.

Have you ever felt ‘strategically unfocused’ during training? Was it detrimental or beneficial? When was the last time someone called bullshit on you? :)

6 thoughts on “Strategically unfocused”

  1. Think it’s time for an ultra! (cough) Ultra runners don’t care about anything. We just run. You’d like it. Trails and more trails. Anyway, good luck at Newport. It’ll be awesome. Then (cough) consider a trail ultra.

    1. haha, Chris. You’re seeing right through my (cough) nonsense (cough). I better go get this looked at (hack).

  2. I think we really are at the same point in the training cycle (which makes sense, given that we’re training for the same race), because I’ve had those thoughts of “fuck, am I prepared???” and “why, exactly, am I running another marathon??” That first thought can only be answered (read: silenced) by silencing the demon between the ears. The second thought is a little more complex, as the reasons differ by runner. But I think Chris’ statements about ultra runners applies here — we just run. We just know that there’s something about it that we enjoy, and that we miss it when we can’t/don’t do it.

    I can’t think of a time when I felt strategically unfocused, except for maybe marathons 1-4 (though being “strategically unfocused” would have required having a strategy to begin with). And the last time someone called bullshit on me…maybe it was at work?

    1. Agreed. It’s good to have someone going through this simultaneously because it makes us (read: me) feel just a little less crazy. :) xox

  3. Wow that’s spooky. On my run today I had the realisation that the big reason for me burning out at the start of last year was the exact opposite of what you described here. Everything was about running for me – reading, eating, sleeping, breathing, running. Sure I was setting new PRs every few weeks, but it all came crashing down when I got food poisoning and last year was pretty much a series of running fails. I’m back into the swing of things now and I think I’ll try to cultivate a mindset like you’ve described in this post and just get shit done.

    1. Really interesting, Mike! I can identify with you though. My first year of running postpartum was like that; I was re-setting my PRs in basically every distance (and at almost every race I ran), and the enthusiasm and zeal and everything was definitely there to binge on running 24/7. I sometimes struggle with balancing running with family and life, so I think that I’m sometimes (but not always) hyperaware of how much mental or physical (?) time I’m devoting to it. Anyway, so glad you’re having a better year already– it has been great to see you on DM again! — and I’ve no doubt that you’ll get shit done straightaway. ;)

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