Sometimes the Goal Just Feels Right

A few days ago, I stepped outside for my run and looked down to start my watch, just like any other day.

It read 24:32. Twenty-four hours, thirty-two minutes. I must have forgotten to press “stop” after my run the day before.

That’s when it hit me just how long a 100-mile race is. Although simply to finish is the main goal, 24 hours would be the number to gun for. Many runners take longer than that to finish, but some races won’t award you a precious belt buckle if you do. And some ultrarunners say you haven’t really “run” a hundred until you’ve done one in 24 hours.

But why, out of the blue, am I talking about a 100-miler?

In case you weren’t reading 18 months ago, I actually signed up for one back then, but never did it. And in a way, I think that particular goal — one that I really wasn’t ready for, one that overwhelmed me, and one that I now realize was only an attempt to keep my flame of motivation burning — is the thing that actually snuffed that flame out for a while.

What went wrong last time

They say the problem with goals is that often when one is achieved, you feel no happier, no more satisfied than before you reached it.

This was not the case after I qualified for Boston — when I got back home from New York and returned to my routine, I was on a cloud. Every time I thought about it, I was happy. And proud. I had worked so hard to get there, and there had been many times during that seven years of trying when I doubted it would ever happen.

Knowing that it did happen was incredible, and to this day it makes me happy when I think about it.

With that goal no longer the focus of my life, it was refreshing be able to strive for something new, too. I decided to run a 50-miler, and thanks to being in the best shape of my life, this goal only took seven months to achieve!

And that’s when the reality started to hit. I signed up for another 50 with a friend, and though I did run the race and finish it, my training was poor and my heart wasn’t in it. Desperate to find a new goal that inspired me, to fill the void that qualifying for Boston left, I signed up for the 100-miler. When in doubt, double the distance! It had worked for the 50, why not now?

Only it didn’t work. Or, better, I didn’t work for it.  

In the months that followed, I never felt anything like the fire that had driven me to train to BQ for all those years, or the excitement and fear that the thought of the first 50 had stirred up.

Instead, I just didn’t feel like running. So I didn’t run much, and the 100 happened without me.

And since then, in my life as a runner, something has been missing.

What’s different this time

But now, I have a new goal. It’s the same as it was then — a 100-miler — only I feel 180 degrees different.

Last time I signed up for the race because I thought it would motivate me. Now, I understand that I was grasping. Sure, signing up is a great tool for helping yourself stay motivated, but it can’t be the underlying reason for your motivation.

I haven’t signed up yet this time, but it’s not because I’m scared. It’s because I can’t decide whether I should do the safe thing and wait until next spring, or try to make it happen as soon as September. I realize that’s pushing it, but I’m so motivated right now that I don’t want to give up the sense of urgency that’s helping me make major changes.

And to that point, everything has changed.

With my new habit of running every day, increasing the mileage each week, and working on strengthening not just my body but my mind, I  feel that somehow I’m in a better position to do this now than when I was at the peak of my running. (Right now, I’m up to running for 50 minutes per day, and closing in on 30 straight days of running, something I’ve never done before.)

I haven’t yet done a longer run, for fear of upsetting the great thing I have going right now with doing a nice run (either hilly and hard, or meditative and slow) every day. But I’ve found a great route up a small mountain in my neighborhood that takes me 15 minutes of uphill running from my front door to the top of it, and to push my son up it in the jogging stroller is an incredibly tough workout and one that I think will train me to hike better on the hard uphills that are an inevitable part of trail racing.

Along with this, I’m doing some strength training each day — just one set, to failure, of three bodyweight exercises one day, alternating those three exercises with a different set of three the next day.

My diet has changed, seemingly automatically, in the sense that I haven’t noticed a conscious attempt to change it. I just gravitate to better foods, more of the good ones and none of the bad, more mindful eating, more tea, less alcohol, and way better smoothies that are packed full of nutrition and superfoods each morning.

I’ve also begun viewing my daily meditation and mindfulness practice from the perspective of preparing me for this race. I read The Way of the Peaceful Warrior after Scott Jurek mentioned it in his book, and the ideas there have led me to other books, like Body, Mind and Sport (also mentioned by Jurek as one that helped him with his breathing).

In short, the thought of the 100 this time has brought about real, tangible changes. That’s a striking difference from last time, and I know the result will be different too.

The September race I’m looking at is just 14 weeks away. I do have an alternate plan of a 100K in September, and I think that’s the much more likely outcome — but striving for the 100-miler in September is working for me right now, so I’m not giving up yet.

But with all of these changes, reading that 24:32 on my watch was a reality check.

When I saw it, I thought about all that had happened since my run just a day before.

A blog post. Answering a bunch of emails. Eating lunch. Playing with my son. Making dinner, cleaning up dinner, and reading. Drinking a beer. Reading some more. Doing a little more work before calling it a night. Sleeping an entire night. Waking up, making a smoothie, drinking some tea, reading some more, meditating, doing some more work, eating lunch.

It’s impossible for me to imagine how it would feel if, instead of doing all of that stuff, I had simply run. And run. And run.

The most I’ve ever run is ten and a half hours. It totally broke me, leaving me feeling like I could not run another mile. Let alone another 50 of them.

But right now, that unfathomability is exactly what’s making me feel like a runner again. It’s a feeling I had forgotten, and it’s great to have it back.



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  1. It was difficult for me to read Scott Jurek’s book and not dream of ultrarunning, although it’s a concept that I’d been holding hostage in my mind for quite a while. Seeing you reach for those goals is fairly exciting.
    Seeing how much you run, can you talk a little bit about your style of strength training if you get a chance? I’m curious because right now, I run 3 days a week, go to yoga 2 days a week, and try to strength train. But I’m used to lifting heavy weights and going hard – and I’m just sore all of the time. In addition, I’d like to increase the time that I run (and days/week), so I just wanted some perspective as far as that’s concerned.

  2. Beautiful man. Go for it. We are all right here to support you along the way.

  3. Wow – I love reading through your thoughts on the 100 and what you have gone through in your last attempt. I’m also extremely impressed with your 50 minute per day run streak, very nice! I’ll be anxious to read how your training goes and which race you end up going with.

    For me, I want a few more 50Ks before I can wrap my head around 40 or 50 miles. 100 sounds absurd, which is why it’s so awesome!

  4. Ultra running is 90% mental……..I have done several 50 milers but haven’t mentally grasped the 100 mile mind set it will take…….

  5. Beautiful and insightful post. Your heart and mindfulness really show through and I it’s very inspiring. Thanks!

  6. Matt, I LOVED this post. Believe it or not, I can relate to everything you said, except that my 100 miler, is actually, well, only a 5k. Don’t laugh, it’s my first ever, and after YEARS of dreaming about it, I’ve finally signed up for one, and am training in earnest.

    YOU CAN DO IT, just as I know I will too.

    I can’t wait to hear about your Ultra-Marathon experience, so GO FOR IT! and in the mean time, keep inspiring us all, the runners, and like me the wannabe runners. We can all use the inspiration. 🙂

  7. Michelle says:

    I was elated to see your first 50 miler was the NF Endurance Challenge. I just did the NF marathon in DC and now I know what I missed: cliffs! I am afraid of heights and I conquered fears all over the place that day. It was my first trail race, too. I have back pain after that race (been told it’s my piriformis) and suddenly I don’t feel like much of a runner. Between your blog and Jurek’s book that I just started, I will get my motivation back. Thank you for the inspiration! You have one of the best blogs around.
    I have my sights set on a 50-miler, too. Can’t wait to read about your 100-mile journey!

  8. what a great post! how inspiring! you can do it!

  9. That’s very exciting! I look forward to hearing about your training etc in future posts!

  10. Jon Weisblatt says:

    LOve this post Matt. Getting mentally pumped up is at least half the battle. I’ve been humbled the kast few months in an attempt to run in minimalist shoes (multiple peroneal and achilles strains)and now I have to start training in a couple weeks for the Marine Corps Marathon. It sounds like the mindful meditation books have really helped. Guess I’m going to the bookstore. Wether is a 100 miler or a 5k goal (good luck Tanya S. You can do it!) it should be fun. If you don’t run with a smile on your face then something may be missing. I just listened to part of an old CSN song “It’s getting to the point where I’m no fun anymore….” Let’s not be that guy.
    Keep it Groovy My Man!

  11. Fantastic! I can’t wait to read about your training in the upcoming months. 🙂

    Over the ~8 months (ok, maybe a bit longer) I have been going/or gone through a lot of what you mentioned in this post and the last few: burnout. Mostly, I think it’s because I’ve now been a runner for ten years, of which nine of those included marathons and eight included some triathlons. I also qualified for Boston (several times) and did it once… I was totally on cloud nine when I did Boston in 2006. I then moved several times around the world, participated in long distance tri worlds, did some long trail races (albeit nothing like 50 miles! But I did do a 30K off road in Changchun China last year, all on my accord, while I lived in the country). I even helped my husband run his first marathon in 2010.

    Anyways, point is, I finally reached some kind of point in 2011 where I was no longer interested in long races, road races, or anything long that required me to run hard. By the time I left China I was totally content on running a few times per week as a social activity or to clear my head (short runs), but I did other things instead (aerobics classes on rooftops with loud music and boot camp type of classes). When I moved back home, I was happy to have clean air and a forest to run in, but still not motivated or interested in doing really tough runs. I thought that would change if I signed up for a half-marathon in early April, and a full marathon at the end of April.

    In the half-marathon I made a personal worst, and that should have been a telling sign for what was to come. The next week, I decided to cut my last long run down by 10K – I didn’t feel up to it and figured “meh”. Well, I dropped out of the marathon about 12K into it. It wasn’t just that my feet and legs weren’t up to it, it’s that *I* wasn’t up to it. I hadn’t trained properly in terms of speed work (because I didn’t feel motivated or up for it) and had hated every long run (felt like suffering rather than building up to something big), and I knew all this before the race. The whole week leading up to it I told my husband that I’d go no further than half way before dropping out. But the truth is, I think, I’m just sick of large road races in cities, which are noisy and on pavement and for over 3 hours… I much prefer the silence and solitude of being alone on the trails.

    With that said, the marathon changed me–why? Not sure. Maybe because it taught me, like your 100 mile race taught you, that it happened anyways, people finished, the race went on, and somehow the fact that I didn’t do it didn’t seem to matter to me personally… classic burnout. I think I’ve started to come out of the funk because I have been doing what you are doing — I’ve cut back my runs to short ones (5-10K) and one longer lazy trail run on the weekends (15-20K). I’ve also decided to start going to the pool again and do some more stretching/yoga days. I miss the diversity I had before. I still have a long ways to go before I get your motivation back for the long stuff, but I’m starting to wonder if it’s even meant to be. Funny thing is: I don’t seem to really care at this point, as long as there’s enjoyment in it!

    • Jon Weisblatt says:

      Hey Amanda,
      I think we’ve all been there with the mental burnout feeling. My wife did her first half marathon then steadily lost her form and overall moj the next yaer or 2. This past year she got her smile back after we took a Chirunning week long class. Point being that life can be full of enough stress and unpleasant thins. Our choicess of exercise shouldn’t add to it. They should be stress relievers. Good for you for finding enjoyment in your exercise again.

  12. Just wanted to say I love your posts. You have actually motivated me to get back to being more serious about my running.

    Also, I was curious when you stated: “The September race I’m looking at is just 14 weeks away. I do have an alternate plan of a 100K in September, and I think that’s the much more likely outcome”, is that a typo? What is your plan for an alternate race? Spring?

  13. Matt, does it help to think of the 100 miler as doing a 50 miler right after you finished a 50 miler?

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