Declaring victory

Seth Godin’s post from yesterday, declaring victory, jarred me: “Whenever you start a project, you should have a plan for finishing it. One outcome is to declare victory, to find that moment when you have satisfied your objectives and reached a goal. The other outcome, which feels like a downer but is almost as good, is to declare failure …”

I was just thinking how much I enjoy entering into open-ended projects. For example, I’m currently writing every day and running every day. It’s simple to understand – have I done this yet today? No? then I guess I better get to it …

I don’t always do things that way. Six years ago, I set a goal of running the Riverbank Run (15.5 miles) in May of 2006. I loved the feeling of accomplishing such a tough goal (albeit an arbitrary one). As I finished it, I set a goal of running the Grand Rapids Marathon (26.2 miles) in October. My family was so proud of me – my brother actually cried at the finish line. As soon as I finished that, I decided to run Huff in December (31 miles on trails – only 5 miles longer than a marathon, but it took me twice as long to finish). My family just thought I was crazy then.

At that point, I noticed a problem – I didn’t have a goal for running anymore. I had accomplished everything I wanted to accomplish to that point. I would have loved to focus on ultra-marathons and running longer and longer distances. I have one really good qualification for these: I can eat a lot during a run without getting sick. I consumed more than 1,000 calories during my marathon. Very handy. Unfortunately, I had just started working for Microsoft, and I had a 3-year-old kid. I didn’t have more time to run, I had less.

Instead of running farther, I thought about running faster and trying to qualify for Boston. I would have had to take more than a minute off my best marathon pace – it’s tempting to try, but I never really believed I could do it. If you don’t believe you can, then you can’t.

I thought about doing triathlons, but I’m mediocre on a bike (notice I didn’t say I was a cyclist), and I’m a bad swimmer (I sink). I just don’t see an immediate goal for me there. Maybe I’ll do it when I retire and have time for crazy long rides and swimming lessons.

In 2010, a buddy of mine ran every day and wrote about it every day. He even ran with me one day that year. His streak running inspired me to start a streak of my own, but I fizzled. When we ran together, I told Doug that the streak made me feel bad, but that wasn’t the whole truth – failing at the streak made me feel bad. Twice I got a streak past 30 days, and then I simply forgot to schedule a run while traveling. That sucked. I didn’t see a way to reconcile streak running with travel.

Before I started my current streak, I realized that the beauty of streak running for me is that if I’m going to commit to it, then it forces me to prioritize running higher in my life. That’s a good thing for me. I thought about that as I smiled while running along unfamiliar Chicago streets in 16-degree weather Friday and Saturday. I was making time for something that’s important to me (and thinking about Frank).

And now I have a goal. To make the official list of retired and active running streaks, you have to run at least 1 mile every day for a year. That was the goal Doug set for himself in 2010 and accomplished. Once he started, he KNEW he’d run 365 days (thus the name of his blog), but if I remember correctly, he was pretty happy to take a day off when he reached that goal. When I started, I wasn’t really thinking about the goal – I just started running every day. Now it’s going to take prolonged unconsciousness or visible bones to keep me from running every day in 2012.

There’s something I like about open-ended projects (e.g., running every day), and there’s something I like about reaching a goal (e.g, running every day for a year). Seth’s post has really made me think about the difference and in what areas of my life I should be focused on one versus the other.

I do know that running is more fun for me when I run with purpose, whether that purpose is to run far, run fast, or run frequently. And my ultimate purpose for running is simply to have fun.

I also know that there are some crazy wonderful runners on the streak runners lists. Mark Covert has been running at least a mile every single day since before I was born. Actually, I believe he’s run at least 2 in fact. He’s averaged 9. He’s scheduled surgery for immediately after a morning run and then squeaked in a painful run the following night. I wonder when he will declare victory on his little running streak project.

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