This past weekend was the 50th running of the New York City Marathon. After being canceled last year, about 33,000 runners competed this year.
Ten years ago I ran the NYC Marathon. It was the third of the four full marathons I’ve run, my second NYC Marathon, and the only one that was horrible. The other three were enjoyable (as much as marathons can be) — in those others, I ran my own race, didn’t worry much about my time, took in the sights and experience, and learned some life lessons along the way (check out Mile 21 Thinking IFOD on this point).
What was horrible about the 2011 NYC marathon for me? I was consumed with my time. Based on my training I thought I could break 3:30. However, during the first few miles of the race, I knew that I was having an off day as my heart rate was elevated and running at my planned pace felt harder than it should have. Instead of slowing a bit and running at the pace my body wanted, I pushed on at my goal pace. The result was disastrous. As the miles wore on it felt like I was falling apart — my wheels slowly came off off — and by mile 18 I could no longer hold the pace. I ran slower and slower and slower. The last few miles were excruciating and were probably the hardest physical thing I’ve ever done. My final time was 3 hours 49 minutes. After crossing the finish line I was wobbly and lightheaded. An astute volunteer noticed my physical distress and steered me towards the medical tent where I spent about 30 minutes recovering.
When I saw my wife after the race I told her “that was horrible, I don’t know who I am or why I am on this planet — my entire life is a farce. I think I should have a hot dog.” Then I threw up.
Reflecting back on my four marathons (and half marathons and triathlons), I realize that the only person who cared about my time was me. Nobody else cared. Further, only my closest family and friends even cared that I ran a marathon (and even then they didn’t care much). And why did I care? If I had run it in 3:30 it wouldn’t get me anything. That time would have not qualified me for Boston or provided any particular notoriety. A 3:30 marathon is just a middling time. As is 3:49. Who cares?
As I’ve reflected back on my 2011 NYC Marathon experience over the past ten years I’ve realized that there are all sorts of things I care about that nobody else does: what I weigh, how many pullups I can do, how many books I read in a year, my sleep score on my Oura Ring, and so on. I’m sure everyone has these things — stuff that’s only important to them.
I’ve attended a few funerals of some amazing people over the past year and I’ve noted what was said about them: “she focused on you — made you feel like you were the most important person in the world”, “he cared about you and was always there for you”, “he had a great sense of humor and made everybody a bit happier”, and so on.
I’ve been thinking about what I would like to be said about me at my funeral. I don’t think anyone would say “he stayed within five pounds of his goal weight from age 33 to 42” or “he read 102 books in 2019“, or “he ran a 3 hour and 30 minute marathon.” In fact, maybe some of my obsessive goals actually detract from how I’d like to be eulogized. For instance, time spent marathon training could have instead been spent with family and friends. Getting up at 5am while on vacation with my family to run 16 miles maybe wasn’t the best use of my precious time on this planet.
I recently had a conversion with my mentor (brilliant polymath Spencer Burke) who said the following “most anything done to an extreme is detrimental — it is in fact possible to have too much of a good thing.” I think he’s right (which is hard for me to accept).
So, the ten-year anniversary of my horrible marathon experience has reminded me of the importance of balance. And how I should spend more time thinking about other people and less time obsessing on things only important to me.