Daniel Gilbert opens his book “Stumbling on Happiness” with a provocative image of our future selves looking back at our current selves and, in most cases, being unhappy with the choices the current selves made. In other words, we make decisions now thinking they’ll get us to the place or person we want to be, but we usually miss the mark.
He asks, “How can this happen? Shouldn’t we know the tastes, preferences, needs and desires of the people we will be next year—or at least later this afternoon?”
Last Saturday was the third race in my goal to run a 50-kilometer (31-mile) trail run on September 9, ten months after chemo ended, and it brought Gilbert’s question into sharp relief.
The race was tough, with over 4,000 feet of elevation gain and loss, and a huge portion of the downhill came in one incredibly steep, quad-busting half-mile stretch near the end—not to mention it was actually two miles longer than the advertised 15 miles.
I went to the starting line with a race plan in mind: one where I pushed myself to the limit without burning out early. And that’s what happened. I stumbled over the finish line fully spent, having run the best race my body could muster.
Yes, the course was tough, but it was also beautiful along the way. The day was perfect—you can’t beat blue skies and mid-70s at the top of a mountain, along with the camaraderie on the trail and after the race that is unique to the trail running community.
Even in the post-race satisfaction, I found myself questioning the importance of reaching that goal of running a 50k. Should I downgrade my aspirations and my September 9 registration to the shorter race, and just enjoy the day? Even now, typing this out, the thought is tempting.
Looking ahead at the next six weeks, I see a whole lot of running. Hours and hours and miles and miles in +90 degree heat. Do I really want to do that? Or need to?
It’s easy to think, “I know I could do it. I’m healthy now. My life’s on track. I’m connected to the running community in a new way, and almost no one runs a 50k. In fact, more people just run a 10k than a 25. It’s really not necessary.”
And if I get injured or have to downgrade for some other reason, or can't run it at all, I think I'll be okay with it.
There’s nothing to prove to myself at this point.
Thinking back to Gilbert’s idea, it made me wonder if my future self will look back on my September 9 endeavor and wonder why I spent so much time and energy on something that was ultimately no more rewarding than a run half as far and half as draining.
But then I think back to the guy stuck in the recliner watching reruns of Blue Bloods and going in for yet another surgery and setting up infusions for the repeated infections he was worried wouldn’t be defeated—the guy who held onto that goal as a way to get through it all. He needs to be honored.
Wimping out now would be a negation of that oath I made to that old self two years ago and clung to for so long.
Bottom line: regardless of what my future self does or doesn’t think about me spending so much time and energy on a silly and exhausting run on trails I can get to any day I feel like, my past self is going to kick me in the ass if I don’t go through with it.