running fail (or "my need for high achievement is ruining my life")

On Thursday I was lucky enough to get an hour with the head of HR at my company. This is kind of a big deal and one of the reasons I chose to come work for this company. He is just a really great man and even with all he has going on he’s willing to make time for me. Anyway, not the point. The point is that during this conversation, he told me about an article one of his friends is writing for HBR about people who have a high need for achievement. We discussed this at length as it relates to work and life, etc. We talked about the need to achieve vs. actual ambition. Two very different concepts, and not the point of this post, but I will say that I am motivated by my need to achieve and not actual ambition (i.e. if there was no one to tell about my running, I probably wouldn’t do it). And “motivated” is probably too positive a word to describe what is actually going on. I’d almost call it a disease…like my other diseases this one is in my head and all about behavior.

So, what does this have to do with running? I will tell you.

I decided, since I had run 12 miles the Saturday before and now mentally know I can finish a half marathon this coming Saturday, that I would only run six miles on Saturday, but that I would actually push myself to run those six miles like it was a race. My mentoring schedule got switched, so I got to sleep in, and didn’t end up heading out the door until about 1:00 pm.

When I left my apartment, something felt off on my hands. I checked to see if I had rings on (I wear rings every day, but not when I run…I’m kind particular about such things). No. No rings on my fingers. I figured maybe it was that. When I got to the park (remember how “the park” is “Central Park”? I wonder if that will ever stop being special for me…) I realized what I had forgotten. My watch. I debated for a couple of minutes whether to walk back home and get it. I decided it wasn’t worth it. While the park is only a couple of blocks from me, those are Avenue blocks, not Street blocks (ie about 1/2 a mile in total) and I had a feeling if I went home, I wouldn’t leave again.

I told myself this would be good. I could run without the pressure of a watch. I could just run to run. And that lie worked for about 2.5 miles. And then sheer willpower kept me running for the next 1/2 mile. And then…I just gave up. I stopped caring if I was running or walking. If I wasn’t going to be able to say how fast (or slow) I’d done it, what was the point? And that’s when I realized that I have a serious achievement issue. I knew this when it came to jobs. It’s not likely I will ever be an entrepreneur because it’s the competition factor that makes me work as hard as I do. I like being compared to people…when I know I will win.

You might be asking yourself how that works with running if I’m so slow. It’s a good question. The way it works with running is this. I know I can’t beat anyone else, so I just run against myself. And if you’ve ever been running with me, you’ll know that unless we pace similarly, I will just quit and let you go ahead. I can’t stand to be the one holding someone back…and knowing that I’m holding someone back…and knowing that I’m not as “good” as someone else. This is a serious flaw. And it’s not news to me, but it was seriously so hilarious (read: sickening) to see it play out like this so soon after my conversation with the big boss.

Needless to say, my watch is at the top of my packing list for my trip tomorrow. And here’s hoping that my total lack of running on Saturday (I get that three miles is still something, but when you compare it to 13.1, it’s kind of small beans) will not kill me in Moab. And with that, I must go pack. I have to be at work early tomorrow and I head to the airport straight from the office. Wish me luck!!!

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