In January 2011, I set a goal to qualify for the Boston Marathon. Since then, I have failed 12 times to achieve my goal. It has been said: "If at first you don't succeed, try, try, again." I hate that saying.
I don't hate it because I disparage the virtues of persistence or determination -- such characteristics are vital in achieving any meaningful goal in life -- and I obviously have demonstrated a willingness to vigorously pursue these traits. I dislike it because it omits some KEY ingredients in any formula of true success.
Here's the way the saying should go: "If at first you don't succeed, do your homework to figure out why, make a better plan moving forward, and then try again."
In the last three years, I have gone from missing my goal by 69 minutes, to missing my goal by only 9 minutes. Such improvement did not occur from merely trying again. It came mostly from making targeted adjustments based on research and due diligence regarding why I was not succeeding, and then implementing those adjustments into my training and races moving forward.
Next Saturday, October 4th, in St. George, Utah, I will run my 13th marathon. I have promised my wife I will retire from the marathon distance (a time-consuming hobby) after this final attempt to achieve this frustratingly slippery objective.
As a lifelong runner with natural talent in the sport, I could easily qualify for the Boston Marathon if I dedicated my life to the pursuit. There are, however, a lot of things in life that are a lot more important to me than qualifying for the Boston Marathon. A mentor of mine helped me refocus on this great truth following a disappointing marathon finish earlier this year. With Dr. Chris P. Neck's sound and inspirational counsel guiding me ever since (see blog entry below), I have continued, amidst a hectic travel schedule and plenty of family and other obligations, to do whatever I realistically could to stay in shape and prepare for my final attempt. The result? I am reasonably -- perhaps even sufficiently -- albeit not amply prepared to succeed in the undertaking.
The St. George Marathon is an unusually fast course. In light of coming within 9 minutes of qualifying on a much harder Jackson, Mississippi course in January, I am optimistic about my chances, but cognizant of the year's training limitations, and ever aware of the unpredictability of the unique interplay of a complex set of variables that always exist on race day.
In two weeks from now, I hope to be composing a blog post that celebrates having finally achieved this elusive goal begun nearly 4 years ago. But even if I'm not, I am grateful I will be able to write about the achievements that have been made by researching, adapting, re-strategizing, and trying again 12 times in a good-faith effort to chase an important athletic goal without impinging on the values and relationships I hold even dearer than the Boston Marathon.
The experience of pursuing this unique goal has taught me that actually achieving an ambitious goal is often not what matters most. What really matters in the end is what you learn and become in the process of pursuit. My combined experiences gained in chasing my marathoning goal, combined with the counsel of my wise mentor, have taught me much, and helped me become more than I was in January 2011. As such, as long as I do my best, whatever happens next Saturday will only propel me further along the pathway of my own personal growth, which, in the final analysis, was a primary reason for my pursuit of the goal in the first place.