Saturday, January 22, 2011

Merit Badges and Hit List Kills

I was a cub scout.  I was a boy scout.  I am a cub scout leader.  I play Mafia Wars on Facebook.  I say the first three with pride, and feel shame about the last. The first three activities are productive, while the last seems like a waste of time.  However, these activities all have something in common, and I think that something has to do with running, too.
When we learn to do anything in life--cook, drive a car, run, complete 3rd grade math (as a student and as a parent), or defeat fictional adversaries disputing our turf—we usually progress slowly and are rewarded with the ability to do the task at hand better each time.  However, the scouts and Mafia Wars both have the benefit of acknowledging the completion of the training and task with awards:  patches, beads, pins, ribbons, rank, special bonuses, weapons of destruction, and other doohickeys to mark the occasion. 
I saw, this morning, that someone earned a “badge” for checking in to Foursquare—a program that uploads your GPS location onto FB/Twitter and the like.  I guess there are awards for broadcasting your location.   Apparently, people like knowing their standing and progress in a lot of venues.  I like the bling, myself.  Of course, when achieving a rank, much of the work goes unheralded.
And this lack of fanfare for the daily toil of earning small achievements and enduring the task of accumulating work is where running fits in.  I run because I like the little achievements of setting goals and then surpassing those goals, only to strive for the next benchmark.  Occasionally those running goals are rewarded with a prize of some sort—a medal, ribbon, or gift certificate, but more often, the rewards are intangible and personal.
Running provides many opportunities for these small victories.  Sometimes getting out the door is a victory well savored after the workout is done.  There are mileage goals, pace goals, and goals against competitors.  There are “streakers” who keep running every day, just to keep the streak of consecutive days of running alive!  Like compiling good deeds and learning skills in scouting or accumulating mouse clicks in Mafia Wars, running provides me with daily tasks that accumulate, and hopefully, yield rewards.
The biggest rewards are those that keep us in the game: learning that knot, improving a scouting unit, completing a mission, and just persevering.  The small achievements fuel our pursuits.   I love to complete a workout, log it, and watch the charts, graphs and numbers of the training log swell.  I monitor daily, weekly, monthly, and annual mileage totals.  I compare workout times from this training cycle to the last cycle that I did (and occasionally from very old workouts) just to see how far I have come.  There is no pin, badge, patch, ribbon, or medal for completing 7 marathons, meeting mileage goals, of gutting out that tenth 800 meter interval on the track, but I wear them proudly.  I wear them in my in my running log, in my posture, and in those dark moments during a race or hard workout, knowing that I have earned the ability to conquer the task at hand.
I don’t run just to get a medal or to proudly wear a Boston Marathon jacket.  I run because I like the work, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t savor the tangible trappings of running almost as much as the intangible ones.  The things that I have accomplished--having qualified for Boston, breaking three hours in the marathon, (earning a scout master or thug award),and that age group win in the local race--do as much do as much to keep me in the game as the prospect of achieving another goal.
So, I train.  Today is the last day of the sixth week of Pete Pfitzinger’s 18-week training plan.  It was a “recovery” week that featured little speed work and reduced mileage.  I needed it.  Last week (65miles), I struggled through a couple of the workouts, feeling dejected and depleted.  I questioned why I train so hard. From that struggle came a good week of recovery runs, and a topic for a blog post. 
Now, would you like to join my mafia?