Half Marathon Musings

I used to think I was a person not motivated by numbers. I’m values-oriented, not metrics-driven, I thought. My half marathon last weekend forced me to acknowledge that I was mistaken. I got a huge thrill from the numbers involved with training for a long race. How many miles today? How many miles this week? How long did it take? What’s my pace? My mileage splits?

Those questions started simmering in the first few weeks of my training, and sizzled into a full boil when I bought myself a GPS watch about three weeks before the race. All of a sudden, my numbers were recorded and analyzed for me with new breadth and precision. I focused more than ever on keeping my training pace under 8:30 (the slowest pace I could maintain and still meet my finish time goal). After runs, I studied a graph generated by the watch that showed the correlation (or more accurately, a happy lack thereof) between my pace and elevation change during runs.

(I think it’s very good that I never weigh myself, because I can imagine myself becoming unhealthily obsessed with manipulating those numbers, too.)

Most of all, I loved knowing that every step I took during every training run was a direct input to my final race performance. That big-picture goal was immensely motivating to me, and I never once skipped a run or “cut corners” (figuratively or literally) on run lengths, as prescribed by the training plan I adopted from the Internet. Somewhere Mile 7 during my half marathon, I reveled in feeling the payoff from those 10 weeks of dedicated training (259 cumulative miles of training). I felt so strong and ready and… vindicated? There has to be a word for that, for the thrill of running a half marathon at goal pace because you trained super carefully for 10 weeks, and while you’re running the race you can feel so wonderfully that those 259 miles of training are paying off. It’s like the feeling of getting handed your diploma after years of studying.

The diploma analogy is especially apt, because I see a perfect parallel between my approach to school and my approach to the half marathon. I stayed motivated for school because I knew that every reading assignment, every homework assignment, pop quiz, and midterm exam, all contributed in some way to my final course grade, overall semester GPA, and eventually my cumulative college GPA. The same “cumulative contribution” structure held true for the half marathon training, so I stayed committed and motivated. And loved the feeling of payoff.

This is also a key factor in my feeling of aimlessness since graduation. Where are my incremental measures of progress? What’s the quantitative reward at the end? What even is the end? What am I working towards, and how do I tell if and when I’m making progress? These questions make me want to curl in fetal position under my blankets.

Now that my race is behind me, of course, I wake up in the mornings and wrestle all over again with the question of whether to run or not. When the motivation is internal only, it’s a lot harder to act… I’m going to sign up for another race ASAP so that I can once again add external motivation to my running — and bring up those numbers once again — for the thrill of the race.

As for my adult life overall, or my career… goals, approach, and motivation still TBD.

with my sister, Mary McCall, at the finish line of the Nashville Rock & Roll Half Marathon (4/30/16)