Angie Runs Boston

My Quest to Run the Boston Marathon

Month: October, 2012

On Goals (and Harvard, Marathons, and Michelle Kwan)

  

Disclaimer: I wrote down my thoughts after running my usual Harvard-MIT-Harvard route along the Charles river, and even though this is not explicitly a running post, it deals with my reasons for running the marathon, so I thought I would share it.

The phrase “achieving your goals” is kind of misleading; it makes you think that the point of having a goal is to actually accomplish it, which is something Randy Pausch of “Last Lecture” fame would call a “head fake,” something that disguises its real purpose by distracting you with a shiny exterior.

Achieving the goal is not the purpose of a goal. The heart of a goal is about making you a better person, inspiring you and (sometimes) forcing you to become someone who is kinder, stronger, smarter, wiser, happier, and more disciplined, in search of that goal. Whether or not you reach the Promised Land – that is not the important part. Make those forty years wandering in the desert count for something too.

Harvard. Marathon. Michelle Kwan. What do these three things all have in common? Well, besides playing large roles in my life, they all involve good goal-making.

Harvard. Having never checked any other box other than “Student” in the occupation section of any form, I consider myself pretty familiar with the world of academia. In high school, there was always an idea being floated by teachers, parents, or guidance counselors about “studying hard and getting into a good college.” That, right there, is a goal. I took that goal to heart (mostly). Are there bad parts of trying to get into college? Definitely. Grade-grubbing, resume-building, teacher-petting…and those are just the ones I’ve thought of in the last 5 seconds. But overall, I think making going to college a goal does good things for young people. Here are just the things I can think of in 5 seconds:

  1. It forces you to wake up in the morning for class. As much as I liked school and loved learning, it would have been pretty darn easy to sleep in if I didn’t have the incentive of avoiding detention for being late.
  2. It teaches you discipline and perseverance. Doing homework every day of your life (minus vacations) is not as easy as adults in the “real world” make it sound. Keeping that end goal in mind makes it more likely that students will stick with it.
  3. It forces you to learn. Yes, learning for the sake of learning is the way to go. But sometimes we all need a little nudge. The allure of reality TV provides a nice n’ easy alternative to learning about ancient civilizations or cell membranes sometimes.

So here’s the thing. After I got into Harvard, a lot of people started congratulating me like I had done everything I would ever need to do in life. Like I had reached the ultimate goal or something. It wasn’t until later that I could actually see getting into Harvard for what it was…not that important. Yes, it’s a great school and I think it’s wonderful to be a student here and it has opened up many opportunities for me. However, had I not gotten into Harvard but had instead gone to another college instead, those previous 13 years I had spent in the public system would not have, by any means, been a waste. The person I became in those 13 years would probably open up similar opportunities and lead me to similar successes in my life because, at the end of the day, I still tend to believe a person (and not a brand-name school) decides his or her own fate (and career).

Marathon. I’m running the Boston Marathon this spring. Why? When I signed up, I wouldn’t have really been able to answer that question. I agreed to do it in a moment of impulsiveness, and in the process, agreed to raise $2500 for charity. 24 hours after I had signed up to do it, I had a brief moment of panic – could I raise $2500 dollars? could I run 26.2 miles? could I attempt to do both things at the same time? Now, having thought more about it, I realize that, on April 15th, whether or not I cross the finish line in a not-too-embarrassing time or whether or not I maintain my goal pace is not really the point. The point is I will have spent months training for something, teaching myself discipline on long runs when my feet have blisters and the freezing winds of Boston are blasting at my face and I try not to slip constantly over the wintry snow piles. The point is that I will have persevered through fatigue and soreness and self-doubt. The point is that I will have to learn how to ask people to donate money to a worthy cause, which is something I have never been good at. The point is that I will have to teach myself time management as I’ve never really had to do before. The point is, the 26.2 miles I run on April 15th will not be the real journey.

Michelle Kwan. As I child, I idolized Michelle Kwan. Okay, who am I kidding – I still idolize Michelle Kwan. I liked her as a child because she skated with grace, always got up when she fell down, and wore sparkly outfits. Nowadays, I like her because I realize she was wise beyond her years, even as a teenager. I was always sad because, as decorated as she was, Michelle Kwan has never won an Olympic gold medal. I remember, once, watching an interview on NBC where a reporter asked Michelle why she decided to compete in the 2006 Torino Olympics even though at the age of 26, facing a brand new scoring system, she would be considered close to geriatric in her sport.

She said, “Committing to do an Olympics – it’s not about those 4 minutes you’re out on the ice for your free skate. It’s about those 4 years you spend training for those minutes. It’s about the journey.” I remember her words so clearly…and I remember not really buying into what she was selling.

“What a cliché,” I told my dad, “the journey is all.”

But now, as I have accomplished a few of my own goals and fallen short of others, I realize that Michelle wasn’t just giving a pretty answer. She was telling the truth. To prove this, I wrote out a silly equation that might not actually prove anything, but satisfied my inner math nerd.

Let’s dissect the phrase “a means to an end” using some basic mathematics (of the non-legitimate kind):

means = journey

end = goal

goal = journey <- because a goal is just a journey in disguise

end = goal = journey

journey = all.

See? The journey is all.

And so, some days, as I’m working towards some goal, I think to myself, will the journey be worth it? And if I can see myself growing and maturing and being healthy in the process, I answer yes. Otherwise, I start evaluating my life and my choices a little more.

The real test of a good goal is this: at the end of the day, whether or not you have accomplished your goal, have you become a better person in your pursuit of it? If you have, then it was a worthy goal. If not, maybe it’s time to set a new goal for yourself.

As always, let’s hope I can keep it up for 26.2 miles (and 6 months).

BAA Half-Marathon: Round II and my “Casual Sunday Morning” Run

First, thanks to all of my heroes of the day! Over the long weekend, I ran the Boston Athletic Association’s annual half-marathon. This is the second time I’ve run this race, having run it for the first time last year; if you just add up my two years of half-marathons, it’s kind of like running a full marathon…right?

Yeah, I don’t think it works like that either.

Typically, on Sunday mornings, I run as a part of the “Harvard on the Move” group, where avid runners and beginning joggers get-together at 10 AM and figure out what kind of a pace and route they’d like to run – and if anyone else wants to run the same route with them. I consider this my “casual Sunday morning run” because it’s one of the most consistent parts of my life, and I know that – rain or shine – I’ll most likely be doing my usual 5-mile jog from Harvard to MIT and back on Sunday morning.

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My normal “casual Sunday run” involves a 10 AM with Harvard on the Move runners who are shown here stretching on the steps where we meet every week.

But today, with it being the BAA half-marathon and all, I had a bit of a different “casual Sunday morning run,” one that involved 13.1 miles, a run through the zoo at the twelfth mile, and a 5:55 AM wake-up. Compared to last year, however, everything about this year was pretty casual.

Last year, there was a freak anomaly of a temperature spike on the day of the half, and it ended up being around 84 degrees that day, which for an October day in Boston is bizarre to say the least. That was the first half-marathon I had ever run, and adding to my nervousness was all the warnings and heat advisories I was receiving from race officials. My own decisions didn’t make the race any easier for me. For example, I chose to break in new running shoes for the first time during the half-marathon that day. Not one of my brightest ideas, as my semi-permanent blisters on both feet can attest to. (Sometimes, I do things that are pretty stupid in hindsight). In any case, finishing my first half-marathon despite the sweltering heat and blistering feet truly made me feel like I could climb Everest that day. I kept a solid 9:30 pace the entire time and didn’t think much of the heat until much later, when I witnessed the hordes of people fainting and vomiting in the medical tent. Intense, right?

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Before the start of the 2011 BAA half-marathon race, we mentally prepared ourselves by getting into our “fierce mode” on what turned out to be a challenging 84 degree day.

This year, there was an almost 40 degree difference in temperature, with a thermometer reading (digital, and from my iPhone, of course) of 46 degrees when I woke up. I had broken in my shoes for about a week and a half before the half-marathon this time around, which in my book could be considered progress. And lastly, because I had been in physical therapy and taken 6 weeks off of running this summer, I was going to just casually jog the race beginning to end without having trained for it. I don’t listen to music when I run, so it was just me and my thoughts for the entire 13.1 miles. At every mile throughout the race, I told myself I had three miles to go. Why three miles? Three miles is one of the most perfect distances to run, in my opinion. It’s about the distance of a 5K race, which attracts the broadest spectrum of runners and is usually the most fun in terms of the free food and drinks afterwards. It’s about the distance of two loops around my favorite place to run (Hudson Spring Parks in my hometown of Hudson, Ohio). And it’s also about the distance of the perfect half an hour of cardio that I find myself making time for in a busy life.

It wasn’t until I made it to the stadium, signifying the last .1 miles of the race, did I let myself think I was almost finished with the race. I finished at my usual 5K pace  (aka, my “three miles to go” pace), which is around an 8:45 minute mile, and I got my medal and granola and Gatorade and returned back to campus for work, Oktoberfest, and a nice home-cooked meal with friends. Much more casual than last year, right?

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This year’s half-marathon was much more casual…

Despite the intensity of last year’s half-marathon and the relaxed nature of this year’s race, the fun spirit of thousands of runners coming together was always present. About one mile into the race, I heard a woman remark jokingly to her friend as they both ran behind a stampede of still-chilly runners, “well, there’s my community of runners!” Her tone was joking, no doubt, but her sentiment sincere, and that sentiment is one of the reasons why I decided to run the Boston Marathon in April. Here’s to hoping I can keep it up for 26.2 miles!

New City, Old Friend…and a “Fenway” Run

Note: I just want to say thank you to all of my heroes of the day! You guys are the best!

There are two things I love in life:

1. Seeing old friends.

2. Running through a city.

This last weekend was a combination of those two things. First, one of my high school friends was in Beantown for a conference and therefore crashing on my couch – after all, what are high school friends for? And second, on his last day here, we decided to go to Fenway since he had never been there. Because the weather was nice (which is more rare during the school year than a winning Cleveland sports team), we decided we would run there.

This was my idea, and it seemed like a good idea, except I had forgotten what I had been up to that morning.

That Morning (Brian Honan 5K):

Every year, a group of my friends and I run the Brian Honan 5K, an annual race that supports the Brian J. Honan Charitable Fund. We do so because it’s fun, everyone gets a medal, and Harvard buys out 100 spots for students. Last year, we decided to take the bus to get to the race (“to save our legs,” according to my friend Jeanie), so we waited by the bus stop about 25 minutes before the race was to start.

And then we waited some more…and more…until it was twelve minutes before the race was supposed to start and we came to the conclusion that no bus was going to come.

What to do? Sprint to the start line, of course!

The start line is a little over 2 miles from the bus stop, and I was running with guys who had all been really good at cross-country in high school. As someone who never ran competitively in high school, the only thought running through my head was “run, Forrest, run!” for some reason (it’s a great movie, what can I say?). We made it to the start line in 15 minutes, after everyone had already started. We passed people who were walking left and right and continued sprinting until we finished the race, where we promptly plopped down on a curb to catch our breath.

While last year’s sprint-through-the-start certainly was memorable, my friend Jeanie vowed that this year would be different. So, on Sunday morning, we jogged to the race and got there 15 minutes in advance, stretched (because it’s good for you), and had a relatively uneventful 5K. Then, after a perfect “photo finish” (see photo below) and feeling like an Olympian with our finisher’s medals, we jogged back to campus for brunch.

One great reason to run? You get to have “photo finishes” like this one!

Back to 5 PM on Sunday:

“We could totally run to Fenway.”

Having been in physical therapy this summer and taking 6 weeks off from running completely, I sometimes forget that running everywhere might not be the best idea. But nevertheless, we did it! (and we also managed to run to the Public Gardens, Boston Common, and back).

Running to the Public Gardens is one of my favorite ways to see Boston; when my friends are in town, I usually offer to give them the grand tour…but only if they run with me!

The best part? They let us go on the field at Fenway! Don’t believe me? Check out the picture of my friend and I doing our best outfielder impression below.

After running to Fenway and being let in by chance, my high school friend and I got the chance to make believe that we were outfielders! (Oh, this was after we got to see Roger Clemens, Pedro Martinez, Jason Varitek, and many other legends who were there to honor Johnny Pesky, for whom the Pesky Pole is named).

And then there’s this…

Best seat in the house 🙂

Needless to say, I was pretty exhausted by 10 PM on Sunday… after a day of fun marathon training disguised as sightseeing. All in all, it was a double-digit miler of a day….Here’s to hoping I can keep it up for 26.2 miles!