Thursday, November 18, 2010

Unconventional Preparation

As a sophomore in college, I had to complete a natural science class requirement. I’ve never been really passionate about sciences and math, so I took one of those fancy-pants humanities-type math classes called, “Introduction to Mathematical Thinking”. It’s the kind of class that should start with a hug and end with you looking in a mirror and saying, “Yes, I am special. Yes, I can do math.”

Okay, not really. But it was a soft class in my otherwise rigorous academic schedule. We learned about the history of cryptology, codes and World War II. We discussed math-as-philosophy and math-as-religion. And I even got to write a paper about math, which was a pun-filled punch piece called, “Seven Ate Nine.” My best friend and roommate, Darcy, loves it and, to this day, I send it to her on her birthday.

Why do I tell you this? It all comes down to the final exam of that semester. I don’t remember what we were being asked to answer. All I knew was that I didn’t want to study for it. I’d rather spend time living amongst my English-Film-Philosophy-History class notes than staring at numbers and graphs and funny symbols (no offense to People Who like Numbers).

So instead of studying, I took an unconventional approach to my exam preparation: I didn’t. I just didn’t study. At all.

And on the day of the test, I put on my giant, red hoodie – the kind of clothing that is socially acceptable only on college campuses and only before 11am – and jeans. I walked across campus with my iPod in my ears, and I played R. Kelly’s “Worlds Greatest” on repeat. Lyrical gems from that song include:
It's the world's greatest, Yo.
It's the world's greatest. Come on.
World's Greatest, Ever.

-R Kelly
I bobbed and weaved my head along to the song, built up my confidence with Mr. Kelly’s melodic motivation, and took the test.

And I got an A.

Okay, so that’s not how it is supposed to happen. You aren’t supposed to mock a test and still get rewarded. As a (older, maybe-wiser) runner I now know that I can’t just show up to a start line, bob-and-weave to my music and expect to be a champion. There’s a lot more to a race – a test – than confidence built upon a 3-minute song.

But that’s not the point of this recollection. What I take from this tiny memory is that there isn’t always a singular way to success. I’ve training for marathons for years. I’ve trained for ultras, triathlons and century rides for a while as well. And frankly, the day-to-day and week-to-week has grown to be a bit formulaic and stale.

Right now, I have the Goofy Challenge on my schedule for the second week in January. I’ll run the half with my mom and the full with my friends. This will be my second Goofy. My first Goofy (2009) was a practice in disciplined training. I put in my workouts. I stayed strict to the schedule. And I had a wonderful time.

This time around, I’m playing it a little more fast and loose. I don’t have any time goals, and I refuse to put pressure on myself to get in “X” amount of training miles. Granted, I know I can run 26.2 tonight if I had to. But physical conditioning aside, I am at a point in my training life where I am loosening up the limits, the reins, the hard lines in the sand, if you will. I’ve spent a couple years pushing myself with the stiff stick of discipline. For the next two months, I am letting that rod bend. I am taking a chance and bettering myself by relaxing.

I will train, I know I will. I will get the time on my feet and put in the miles and make it happen. But I am not going to do so with any pressure. This is my “World’s Greatest” approach. This is the perspective I need at the moment, so that down the line, come ultra time, I can hone my focus back in.

Today I went out for an 80-minute run and came back with just under 10 miles on my legs. And part of those 10 miles were run to the tune of “The World’s Greatest” which, in turn, inspired this post and inspired me to embrace this philosophy through race day.

So here’s to unconventional preparation, and the road it will take me down through January. It’s an experiment in training and in life. And my goal is to just enjoy the nonchalance of fun running along the way. I’m sure I will report back the results of this approach, and I am crossing my fingers and hoodie-ing myself up with the hopes that I will get an “A”. But until then, I’ll just keep running and humming:
I'm that star up in the sky
I'm that mountain peak up high
Hey, I made it.
I'm the worlds greatest
And I'm that little bit of hope
When my backs against the ropes
I can feel it, mmm.
I'm the world's greatest

-R Kelly

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