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April 4, 2006

The Agony and The Ecstasy (But Right Now, Mostly Agony)

(This post may be entirely too philosophical for a college hoops game, but I had a lot of time to think while UCLA was falling hopelessly behind last night...)

Ouch.

Monday night didn’t go exactly as I hoped, to put it mildly. It’s so strange how a group of players who look so good one night can become completely inept two nights later. Obviously the Bruins ran into a much better team last night, and never really had much chance of coming back once they fell so far behind.

So congratulations to the University of Florida on your first men’s basketball championship. 10 more to go and you’ll catch UCLA (sorry, that was easy…)

Actually, the outcome of last night’s game was decided so early, it gave me some time to ponder the nature of losing. I was asking myself questions like “Is getting blown out like this worse than losing a close game that turns on a few key plays, or worse than losing on a heartbreaking shot at the end of the game?”

I concluded that getting blown out definitely sucks. Probably worse than the other scenarios. It was just gut-wrenching to watch. I assumed a state of nearly-complete despair, occasionally interrupted by brief glimmers of hope that were invariably quashed mere moments later. Finally as all pretense of hope eroded, I started questioning why things like a college basketball game matter so much to me, and how they can make me feel so miserable.

And the longer I contemplated, the thought process became more familiar. Because I’ve had the same conversations with myself countless other times – not about college hoops, but about running.

I’ve had that same frustrated, anguished feeling after several races through the years. Whether it was because I didn’t perform as well as I hoped, because I narrowly missed a goal time, or because I inflicted an irrational amount of physical misery on myself to finish, there have been many times when I’ve questioned the stakes of my emotional investment in this sport.

Thankfully, I’ve mellowed somewhat in recent years, and don’t place nearly as much importance on my race results as I used to. But there is still a large part of me that thinks that racing really matters – because it’s only with the risk of failure that we accomplish great success.

Some of the greatest feelings I’ve ever had in my life have been during races. I still remember the ecstasy of running my first 40-minute 10K, of qualifying for the Boston Marathon, or running a five-minute mile. In each case, those accomplishments only came after failed attempts and hardships. In each case, they meant more to me because of it.

My feeling is that the joy and satisfaction of accomplishing a major goal is much greater than the pain of losing or failure, and that is the reason we persevere.

The Florida players must be on cloud nine, having reached a place no other Gator team had been. Ask any Red Sox fan about October of 2004, and they’ll tell you it was the ride of their life. In my case, I remember how great it felt to see UCLA win in 1995, and the thought of having that feeling again was what had me cheering them on during this year’s tournament.

That’s the reason we loyally follow our teams, and that’s the reason I continue to chase running-related goals. Yes, we run the risk of never accomplishing our goal or never seeing our team win a championship - but if we don’t put ourselves in the arena, we guarantee it.

So next March I’ll probably be training for the Big Sur Marathon again, and watching the NCAA Tournament. By that time, the results of this year’s tournament and race will no longer matter, and I’ll once again be optimistically focused on the possibilities ahead.

Because you never know when something magical will happen. And when it does, I want to be ready to enjoy it.

4 comments:

olga 4/4/06, 11:39 AM  

If I could get around the game part of your post, I'd say - yep, loosing sucks, winning is great, but we have to find a balance how to learn and admire both. And I don't think we ever will:) - humans...untill the very end. May be that's why we live?

matt 4/4/06, 2:01 PM  

you are bringing a really interesting and thoughtful perspective to this. some other issues that it made me consider are...

(1) we live vicariously through are teams...perhaps we can do something extraordinary where are talents may lie.

(2) we connect to our teams often because one of our parents did...it might be kind of corny, but i remember that my dad passed on such-and-such team to me. it becomes a part of me, too. as a new parent, I hope to give that to my son (and any future sons or daughters). These are bonds with my father that I will carry to the grave. Your children are going to bleed Bruin blue-and-gold, right? How cool is that? You gave that to them (among many other things).

look who is getting too philosphical now. anyway, thanks for the poignant post. it made me think a lot, as your posts always seem to do.

susie 4/4/06, 3:23 PM  

You wrote this for me, right? I'm sure you did. And I'll be thinking about it on my next run. Thanks.

Susan 4/5/06, 8:27 AM  

I was thinking the exact same thing Susie - you stole my comment! Great post Donald and I love the title!

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