After ten miles of constant pounding, left foot, then right foot, heavy breaths, aggressive sun, and swollen ankles I set a goal. I was three miles short of finishing a half-marathon, and I had just been passed by a larger-set woman wearing an intensely pro-life shirt. She wanted us all to know she was running for all the unborn fetuses killed by everyone who did not share her beliefs. I decided I wouldn’t let her finish ahead of me, since I didn’t want to read her shirt anymore. I took off, and by the end of the race, with a pained knee and hip, beat her by a couple minutes across the finish line.
Part of this short anecdote brings that sense of cheer, of finding a target or a demon to run from (or past), and pushing through pain across a finish line. However, part of the story is this negative pattern that humans have where we create external demons and in fleeing from or pursuing them cause ourselves harm. This could be pulling a series of all-nighters to finish a project, or missing your son’s baseball game for that important business meeting to close a big deal.
We play this internal game where we forget our initial goals as time progresses and a new goal might be possible. We pretend this is okay, we justify. My goal was to simply finish the race and not be in pain, I wanted to be able to show my girlfriend around Chicago for the weekend afterwards which would mean a substantial amount of walking. Both of the last two 13 mile plus races I’d run I was injured by the end. The last race I couldn’t walk for over a week as my knee healed.
Ten miles into the race I felt tired, I was a little sore, but my knee was fine. My pace was slow and steady. My goal was to finish, not with a specified time, not ahead of anyone, but simply to cross the line and still be healthy. Ten miles in, I was accomplishing this goal. Then my goal changed. Sure, I finished ten minutes faster than I would’ve otherwise. I had a lot of “juice” left in the tank and would have either way. But the point, and my goal wasn’t to go fast. It was just SO hard to not let myself try to go faster.
Once I had my demon to chase, going faster became automatic. I didn’t even have an internal debate about this, I just went. At the end of the race and for a couple days after my knee was sore, I limped some and had difficulty going up and down stairs. Was it worth it? No.
Why do we change our minds on goals in the moment and hurt ourselves to achieve a new temporary goal? I’d set this goal months ago. I’d suffered a broken ankle a year ago and knew this wasn’t going to be a fast race, it was about finishing and not being hurt.
It’s amazing to watch as the mind plays tricks on you to accomplish an ego-related goal in the moment. When you notice this happen, take a breath. Remind yourself of the real goal. Write it down on your hand, or some paper, or your laptop or your shoe.
Don’t let the tendency to believe someone imaginary can judge you, or something inconsequential is more important now that the situation is actually happening. Remember your initial goal, especially if it was set over time and came from a place of reason. In the middle of a passionate exchange reason is often the furthest from the mind.