Remember the story of “Alice In Wonderland”? In my favorite part, Alice is walking through the woods when she comes across the Cheshire Cat, and Alice strikes up a conversation with him:
“Can you tell me, please, which way I ought to go?” asked Alice.
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.
“I don’t much care where – ” said Alice.
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.
“—as long as I get somewhere,” Alice added as an explanation.
“Oh you’re sure to do that,” said the Cat, “as long as you walk far enough.”
This is kind of how I’ve been feeling lately. I worked so hard for months to train for the marathon. I ate right, ran a million miles a week, cross-trained, got as much sleep as I could. I planned vacations around my training schedule (and here’s a hint: for vacation visit your best friend who is also a runner, and you’ll find it’s really easy to get your runs in. You may even get to run with her dog, too, which is just a lot of fun). But now the race is over. I ran through what felt like a tornado for over 5 hours, missed the podium by a mere 41,000 or so places, and proudly wore my finisher medal as I limped the few blocks to my car (that Wil already had running and warmed up, God bless him, though he didn’t get my telepathic message to pick up a hot chocolate for me and have that waiting, too) and went home to the comforts of an enormous meal and a hot bath. But, now it’s over, and I feel like I’m walking through the woods without any direction, and without an invisible cat to help me out.
I think a lot of runners feel this way after a big race. You’re so focused on this goal you’ve set for yourself, that it’s all you do or think about for months, but then when you’re done you have no idea of what to do with all your free time (or how to eat a lot less and to end your love affair with pasta). So now what?
Well, I think I have the answer: make a new goal. It doesn’t have to be as adventurous as a marathon, but it has to be something. And that something has to be kind of concrete. Have you ever had a goal to “lose weight,” “start running,” or “be more organized”? Well, those goals are nice to think about, but they’re not likely to happen. If you want to be Alice and just get “somewhere”, then yes, the cat is right. Just keep walking, and you’ll eventually get there, but wouldn’t it be better to have an endpoint and a map to get there? When you get in your car and turn on your GPS (which I pretty much have to do every time I drive somewhere; I swear, I have the sense of direction of a chair), do you just hit start, or do you have to tell it where you want to go first? Right. You give it the destination, it gives you the route and you follow it until you get to where you’re going (occasionally getting confused when it tells you to take a left into a concrete wall or when it says “Recalculating” while you’re in the middle of a bridge that you've been driving over for several minutes). The best way to achieve something is to think about what you want, then figure out how to do it. Only then can you start working on your project.
I have a few goals set up for next year: an Olympic distance triathlon in September, 3 or 4 shorter triathlons in the spring and summer, a few half marathons and some 10Ks. Oh, and of course the NYC Marathon in November 2015. Some of those are too far off to start working on right now, so for the moment my goal is to keep up my fitness, keep down my weight, and start my training plan for my first half marathon next year (which will either be in mid-March if I make it into the NYC Half Marathon by lottery, or mid-April if I don’t) with a good running and fitness base. I’ve set up training schedules that I’ll follow as much as weather and life will allow, and food-wise I know I have to keep doing what I’m already doing (minus the pre-marathon love affair with pasta).
I don’t want to just keep walking and end up somewhere. I want to keep following the paths I’ve been on, and get to more and more destinations. Granted, it would be a lot more fun if I had a cat to talk to along the way.