Tag Archives: fulfillment

Why Am I Doing This? Oh, Yeah, the Payoff

During a flatter part of last weekend’s long run, I chatted with a guy who’s big into triathlons. He’s doing Ironman Boulder this summer, and part of his preparation is a trip to an Olympic facility for two weeks to work with top coaches. He’s about my age and the two-a-day sessions are, to put it mildly, brutal.

“You’re killing me!” he told a coach after one particular grueling session in the pool. “You’re used to working with athletes thirty years younger!”

“The payoff comes in June, Michael,” he was told.

The coach was correct, of course, and those of us in the throes of training know it. But there are two issues with just accepting that, “the payoff comes in X” and moving on. It doesn’t make training any easier, and it assumes we survive to get to the payoff.

Jim Mora Playoffs Rant

Payoffs? Don’t talk to me about PAYOFFS!

The conversation came back to me while reflecting on this past week of training. While I train and race year-round, January through March is technically my off season, so this is the time to hit it hard. I’ve stepped up my weekly mileage and added an extra session at Body Specs, and boy, am I feeling it.

My coach and gym trainer are keeping an eye on me so I don’t overtrain. But see above for how that makes me feel.

Assuming that I do get through this and end up stronger and faster, my payoff begins as early as April 9, when I join the Martians for a marathon through the streets of Dearborn, in an attempt to qualify for Boston next year. After that, trail season begins, with another April marathon, a May 50-miler, and my first-ever 100-miler in June. I’m still working out plans for the second half of 2016, but for now I think I have enough to train for.

If you’ve read this far (and if you have, thank you!) you may be wondering why all this training and racing is worth the payoff. After all, what’s to gain? A couple more medals? And is the satisfaction of finishing these races worth the time, the effort, and the pain?

My brother perhaps expressed it best once when my wife was telling him about my latest ultrarunning exploits. “Does he enjoy torturing himself this way?” he asked her.

Richmond Half 2015 - middle

I’m up to 287th place! Yes!

I’m tempted to quote Mark Twain, who said, “I hate to write, but I love having written,” but the analogy doesn’t really apply. Yes, there are times during a race or in training for a race that are no fun (last week’s hills come to mind), and yet there is something fulfilling about the act of running for me that is hard to describe.

Mark Twain quote about exercise

Yesterday’s run was a good example. It was a fifteen-miler, with a good portion of it at marathon pace, on a cold, windy day. But I distinctly remember thinking, somewhere in the middle of that run, today, right now, there’s no place I’d rather be.

DWD LM - 099

Dances with Dirt – Hell, 2014. Payoff, baby!

Train on, everyone! The payoff is ahead – and right now.

The Choices We Make – and Don’t

At a writer’s retreat some years ago, I was asked to read a favorite poem. I recited Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken. Having learned it in high school choir, (where we performed its musical arrangement), I thought I knew something about what it meant. A guy goes for a walk, sees two virtually identical paths to take, chooses the less worn one, “Oh, I kept the first for another day!” but doubts he will return. He reflects upon his choice in the final verse:

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence;
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Source: Wikimedia Commons.

“Interesting poem, isn’t it?” our instructor said. “He isn’t saying, ‘I am telling this with a sigh.’ He says, ‘I shall be telling this with a sigh.’ That’s in the future. How does he know that choosing that path will make him sigh, or that it will make any difference?”

While we were pondering that one, he tossed out another. “Notice the title of the poem. It isn’t ‘The Road Less Traveled’ – it’s ‘The Road Not Taken.’ The narrator took one path, but the title refers to the one he didn’t take – about which he knows nothing. And he ‘kept the first for another day’ but then said he was unlikely to ever come back. So what’s that all about?”

"When you come to a fork in the road - take it."

“When you come to a fork in the road – take it.”

He then told us that Frost had a friend who was obsessed about the choices he hadn’t made; he was always wondering, ‘what if I’d done this or that instead?’ So this poem is a jab at that kind of thinking. On the surface, it’s a poem about making a choice, but it’s actually more about the choices not made, and the regret that you can’t go back and make them again.

How often have we fallen into this trap? I sure have. I’ve wasted plenty of time wondering ‘what might have been’ as though I might be richer, or more famous, or have more free time (i.e. somehow happier), if I’d made certain decisions differently.

I could have married a different woman (or remained single), or made different investments, or chosen a different career, or bought my dream car 20 years ago, or done any number of other things. But why I should sigh over any of that? How do I know my life would be better or not? Such thinking devalues the blessings I have from making the choices I did – my family and friends, and the fulfillment I get from my job, running, Aikido, and other activities.

What “makes all the difference” is how we build on where we are right now. That road is always available to us. And if a different life vision appeals to you, then I agree with Joseph Campbell: Follow your bliss, and don’t be afraid. But no empty regrets.

Happy New Year!


P.S. For an interesting twist on the subject of choices, I recommend Roads of Destiny, a short story by O. Henry, which should tell you it won’t be ordinary.