Recently, I completed my first (and possibly last) full marathon. Though I received many of the usual obligatory congratulatory comments by well-meaning friends and family, a few people asked a very valid question: “Why in the world would you do THAT?” Most of them meant it jokingly, but after a short bout with Post-Marathon Depression (yes, this is an actual thing) I asked myself the same question through a very critical lens. Practically thinking, I had spent $135 to register for an out-of-town race (it is less for non-procrastinators), complete with 2 nights of hotel charges, parking, and fuel, only to subject myself to a substantial amount of discomfort leading up to, during (including a bloody nipple) and 3-4 days after the race. Once the high of achieving a goal I had set years earlier wore off, I found myself asking the same question as others had asked after hearing of the accomplishment: “Why?”
Why had I set such a seemingly arbitrary goal in the first place? What kept me going through almost a year of training? What got me up and out on the cold mornings and evenings, when a glass of wine, TV, or time with my family was calling my name? Why do marathons always seem to start at 7:00am? Why are they 26.2 miles? Why, why, why?!
In all seriousness, what seemed so clear and logical during the training portion of my goal suddenly was suddenly a bit of a question mark. I knew it meant something, or I would not have set out to do it in the first place.
The goal began in earnest after a previous failure. After having been in great physical condition through my teenage years and my twenties, my early thirties found me out-of-shape and unhealthy. So, a few years back, I signed up for a local marathon with the logic that training for and completing a marathon would restore my physical self to its previous condition. To make a long story short, after an ill-fated attempt to begin training, I flamed-out and didn’t even show up on race-day. I did keep the free t-shirt, though. However, I teach a course on personal development, and began to use the story of my failure to illustrate mistakes people make when setting goals improperly. After multiple quarters of using the example and it being well-received, a student finally called me out on the hypocrisy of teaching them about goal-setting by using a failed goal as a teaching tool. I then used THAT as a teachable moment to explain that a goal must always be “relevant” to the goal-setter, and that the marathon was no longer important to me except as a cautionary tale. However, the student’s astute observation left me fairly stung and a marathon suddenly felt very relevant again.
This time around, I used all of the techniques I teach as far as goal-setting. I determined that my original zero-to-26.2 debacle was caused by a lack of efficacy or self confidence that I could achieve the goal. In those situations, I teach students to break their goals down to something that feels manageable in order to draw the ultimate goal within striking distance, and then to attack it. So, I set a series of running goals over the course of 9 months, including a 5k, 10k, Half Marathon, finally culminating in my Marathon Showdown. With very few hiccups, I knocked out the goals leading up to the Marathon until I had no excuse except to commit to following through with it. Even after getting derailed on training here and there through a ridiculously hot and humid summer season and missing registration for the marathon for which I originally intended to register, I found myself registered for the 2013 Philadelphia Marathon.
Cutting out the story of losing my cell phone in inner-city Philly and then miraculously having it back in my hand by Mile 13.1, a horrible cramp, and of course, the bloody nipple, I finished the Marathon with somewhat of a slow time but comfortably enough to receive a finisher’s medal in the shadow of the very steps Rocky Balboa conquers in several of the Rocky movies (and yes, I shamelessly had the Rocky soundtrack on my training playlist). With the soreness of my legs almost a memory and my medal hanging unassumingly in my living room, I feel compelled to answer that whole “why” question.
For me, and I think for everyone, goals are deeper and more meaningful than the ultimate result. In reality, running 26.2 miles is neither more nor less significant than any other goal one can set. We set goals for various reasons, but ultimately, most goals are simply ways to measure ourselves and spur some sort of growth. I recently saw a quote from Anthony Robbins that effectively answered my marathon question: “Achieving goals by themselves will never make us happy in the long term; it’s who you become as you overcome the obstacles necessary to achieve your goals that can give you the deepest and most long-lasting sense of fulfillment.” Looking back, the health gained from so many days of training, foregoing various vices in order to get my workouts in, and connecting with others by talking about my goal were the most meaningful parts of the whole experience. With 26.2 miles in the books and my medal on a shelf, I am left with tangible proof that I can set out to accomplish something and hold myself accountable through various levels of adversity. While many goals are perceived to be set for the purposes of vanity, self-promotion, or material gain, I think the “why” ultimately comes down to proving something to ourselves about ourselves. The picture painted by the experience is ultimately an image that can be drawn upon over and over again in the future to overcome new challenges and continue to grow.
2-15-1977 to 5-18-2014-
John Mazi is an attorney, educator and motivator from Akron, Ohio. He graduated Cum Laude from Kent State University in 1999 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Criminal Justice. He then went on to study law at the University of Akron School of Law, graduating in 2003 with a Juris Doctor degree. He took and passed the Ohio Bar Exam later that year and is currently licensed to practice law in the state courts of Ohio, as well in the Federal Court in the Northern District of Ohio.
For several years John practiced law exclusively, focusing on the areas of real estate, civil litigation, juvenile law, and business law. He is currently the Legal Studies Program Director at Miami-Jacobs Career College in Independence, Ohio, and practices law as a solo practitioner. Because of his passion for law and personal development, he has been teaching legal, criminal justice, and career/success courses at Miami-Jacobs Career College campuses in Cleveland and Akron with the constant goal of motivating others to reach their potential.