On the Advisability of Goals

This is a slightly more personal post than the stuff I usually write, so it goes under a tag. Navel-gazing? Turned it into an art form. (Oh, and for those with a propensity for more esoteric vocabulary, it’s called omphaloskepsis. Learning something new every day ftw!)

Today, if I’m counting right, marks the fifth time I’ve run 1.5 miles as part of my exercise routine*. That’s 2.4 km in the parallel, saner metric universe, which is not coincidentally the distance I had to run during my physical fitness tests in school.

The thing is, I never passed any of those. I couldn’t pass them, or rarely passed them, when I was in primary school, and doggedly failed them all in secondary school and junior college. There were reasons I would’ve found them difficult to pass (which are interesting, and which I won’t go into) but it’s always been a sore point with me that when everyone else was done and stretching I was just heading into the last lap.

After a while, I began to get medically exempted from these tests. This was a relief; being 14 was hard enough without being a laughingstock on the exercise field into the bargain. Then one day, I called it quits after a couple of laps and told my PE teacher this was fine, because I was exempt.

I received what was possibly the worst dressing-down of my life. The most terrible part, of course, was that she was right.

Valuable life lesson #1: just because something is hard is no reason not to do it. At least give it a try.

Looking back at it I’m still a bit astonished at how much I changed after that. It sounds dramatic, I know, but I did start going to the school gym early in the mornings for about half an hour to work on weights and strengthening my leg muscles. I joined the unfortunately named Trim and Fit club** when they went on their morning runs. I went walking on my own, which helped me in general anyway.

And none of it did any good.

The last time I ran the 2.4 was in secondary school. It was a bit of a mess. I failed — I came in well past the 16:30 minute mark — and then broke down in front of my entire class. Not the most dignified of exits, in fact. I actually, truly thought I’d failed it for ever and ever, after all the effort I’d put into trying. At that point it seemed like the only thing I could with any level of reliability was fail. [Emo, I know. My only excuse is that I was a teenager and hormonal.]

At various points of time over the last 9 years I’ve tried to get into running, with varying levels of success. The most consistent period was when I was interning in Austin, with my own apartment and free time in the evenings after work. I could run 18 minutes in hilly ground, which I counted reasonably successful. I didn’t dare time myself, in case I failed again.

Last year and this year, I’ve been trying again. It’s been hesitant going, especially after I messed up the knees somehow. On the occasions I’ve timed myself, I’ve clocked in at just about the time I’d need to pass. It’s not an earth-shattering achievement by any means, but it’s one of those things I’ve simply wanted to do, to prove to myself that I could, for a long time.

I don’t know why it worked now. I don’t know why I can do at 25 what I should have been able to do much more easily at 16. But if I were to venture a guess, I’d say that’s because

1. I trust myself more now.
2. It wasn’t a death race to prove anything to anyone, except as an experiment.

I feel like there’s another life lesson in here somewhere, no? Perhaps some things just require confidence, a sense of perspective, and time.

This sounds insane, I know, but I always wake up every day with the subconscious decision that I’ll try to be just a little better than yesterday. To run 1.5 miles was a quiet but major goal that I was hoping to get to before I turned 25, at some point. And now I’ve done it, cliched as it sounds, I do feel better about myself.

Will I now run marathons? Probably not. Will I think I’m capable of them? Sure. Maybe a 5km, an itty bitty marathon. The point is, running is no longer a fool’s dream, a bitter regret. Maybe that’s what I wanted all along.

*Calling it a routine is pushing it a little. 1.5 miles and some situps and I call it a day.
**Otherwise known as the TAF club. Flip the letters around, and… yeah.

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