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An excerpt from Meb for Mortals
MY FORMER MAMMOTH Track Club teammate and fellow Olympic Marathon medalist Deena Kastor likes to say that we make choices, not sacrifices, when we’re working toward a goal. I agree with that way of thinking.
The difference might seem like a matter of word choice, but it’s an important one. “Sacrifice” has a negative connotation: “Because of my running, I can’t do this, I can’t do that.” Thinking that you’re constantly denying yourself in order to meet your goal can make your goal feel like a burden. And who needs more burdens?
“Choice” has a connotation of working toward something that’s important to you: “I could do this, but instead I’ll choose a different path that will better enable me to meet my goal.” Thinking of your decisions as choices, not sacrifices, gives the feeling that you’re in control.
For example, when Deena and I were teammates, I lived for most of the year at altitude in Mammoth Lakes, California. My extended family–not to mention great year-round running weather–was several hours away in San Diego. I lived in Mammoth Lakes for 10 years, until I moved to live full-time in San Diego in 2013. I have no regrets about the choice I made to spend a decade in Mammoth Lakes. Being in that setting was what I needed at that time to develop into a world-class athlete. Sure, at times I wondered, “What am I doing here?” But if you don’t occasionally question what you’re doing, then you’re not moving in the right direction. During my time in Mammoth, I won an Olympic silver medal and the New York City Marathon.
Most of the decisions we face when working toward a goal aren’t that extreme. They might be as simple as whether to have ice cream or a banana for dessert. (I said simple, not easy!) If part of the way you’re working toward your goal is by trying to eat as healthfully as possible, then you can say, “The banana is the best choice for me on this day.”
Making the right choices is also made easier by the fact that most goals are finite. You work hard to achieve a goal. After you do, play hard. Take time to recharge physically and mentally. After I won the Boston Marathon, I became extremely busy traveling all around the country. I mostly ate what I wanted when I wanted. My birthday was 2 weeks after Boston, and it seemed like everywhere I went, someone had made me a birthday cake. Especially when I was with my good friend and fellow marathoner Eileen Patrick, who saw what had gone into my Boston win, it was good to just relax and look back on the big accomplishment with a birthday cake. I ran some, but at nowhere near the volume or intensity I did before Boston. After some weeks of this I weighed 132, which is 10 pounds more than I was when I won Boston.
And guess what? I wasn’t worried about that. I had wanted to win Boston for years, and I was determined to enjoy having done so. I knew that when it came time to focus on my next goal, the 2014 New York City Marathon, I would return to living like I had before winning Boston. I wound up finishing fourth in New York against a strong field, and I beat the race’s course record holder and the Olympic champion. I was very happy with that result, which wouldn’t have been possible without again temporarily seeing a banana instead of ice cream as a choice, not a sacrifice.