The U.S. Olympic Trails Marathon “B” Standard is 2:18 for 2016; my current PR is 2:48. Exactly a half hour faster, an absolutely huge difference. I would need to run all 26.21875 miles at close to my current one mile pace. Yet still I think about that time. The gap between my “fast” 5k times and those of the pros seem so manageable comparatively; 17:10ish to their low 13’s, less than four minutes to make up there! Over one mile, again, I’m nearly nipping at their heels, by about a minute. But 30 minutes over 26 miles, that’s just insane!
Taking a step back into real life, I’m in the field of “normal” runners, not elites, and our standard “fast” for the marathon is commonly the “BQ” and not the B Standard. The Boston Qualifying time is what many marathoners work towards as a benchmark for speed, most with dreams of running in Boston, should they get below that time. For me the BQ is 3:05 or less. I learned last year after my first BQ official time, just how bittersweet a valid running goal can be. I finished the ING Hartford, CT Marathon last year in 3:01 and stood around after the race thinking, “… that’s it?” I mean, sure, I was happy! But I see now that I was shooting a little too low, I was aiming for goals that people thought I could realistically hit and I believed those people. I was still thinking too rationally, thinking dreams and goals were the same and both of them should be reachable by “x” date. My recent spring marathon was in an effort to go 10-20 minutes under the BQ time in order to be given preference in the registration process for Boston, something many hopefuls do not make it through. I knew I wanted to get faster, but other than the Boston registration, I had no exciting motivator for the race. It was just the next step in an unending quest to get faster. I was training hard and was indeed rewarded with a big PR, but for the first time yet, I finished a marathon knowing that I could have gone faster. I didn’t leave it all on the course. I now see part of the reason why, I set for myself a goal I knew I could hit. Aiming too high was tantamount to planning for potential failure and that went against my adult psyche! Adults don’t have pie in the sky fantastical dreams; they only set you up for disappointments we like to say. I’d like to challenge this detestable concept. Since when did having wild dreams become something only children are allowed engage in? And why did I know that children have so much fun dreaming, yet refuse to take part in it? To understand these questions I had to think back to a time before I started behaving so darn rationally.
When I was child I read The Lord of the Rings Trilogy 13 times, I built forts, rode bikes into town and ran through the woods; I lived my dreams! My parents actively encouraged a healthy imagination (and being a bookworm) even in my teenage years I was still building forts and running through the woods. I was then equipped with a paintball gun and the forts were splattered in bright colors, but chasing after those fun dreams was still paramount.
Something happened during and after college though; the dreams became “plans” and they were expected to be reasonable and manageable. Gone were the ‘shoot for the stars metaphors’, replaced with the ‘plan to succeed and stay within budget’. Goals were not listed in order of likeliness to achieve, but in order of timeliness to achieve. I stopped setting goals and dreams that seemed unreachable and I started scheduling for the inevitable arrivals. I set out from business school to start my own performance automotive garage and a few years later, I had found the right friends and started the shop. (Credit to their skills here) We didn’t set our sights too high and we were able to find some success, have some fun and stay friends. It turned out that my dreams of being a car tuner were becoming less and less alluring the closer they came to fruition, however. I ended up stepping out of the business and languished in a boring state job for 3 years before seeking a move and a new job to help change direction. Some big positive changes did happen while at that boring state job though. Among other lessons learned and growth realized I became a runner, and boy did that alter everything.
I started setting these dream goals in my head again, the childlike, keep me up at night with excitement, goals. I didn’t even realize it at first, I was only aware that thinking about and planning my running was super fun. Watching the distance events in the Olympics and reading the training logs of professionals was exciting too, but I still couldn’t quite place why. Then a crazy thing happened after my last marathon, I started joking about these dream goals out loud. Some people were polite and just chuckled, a few of the nice non-runners even told me how fast I was and that my goals were realistic… how kind of them. I have not come full circle yet, I’m not talking about these crazy dreams like I did as a kid. I am a realistic adult now, after-all, I have to set some respectable boundaries for my imagination. However; I am looking at that 2:18 now and it looks nice and I’m going to be chasing that sucker until I stop running marathons. You see, there is a very big difference between the realistic goals we set and the dreams we have, and yet sometimes, that difference is just as big, or small, as our imagination and nothing more.