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November 19, 2011

Imperfection (the Spirituality of)

by Brendan

My group this morning was talking about imperfection and perfectionism, and I started to relate the topic to training, running, racing, triathlons, etc.

On the Dead Runners Society big list this week, we were discussing race goals — essentially, perfection and imperfection.  Our friend Diane McManus is racing a half-marathon soon, and she’d like to run a sub-2:00:00.  She listed some times she’d done in races recently, and on that basis prevailing view ranged from “Totally out of the question” to “If everything goes well that day, Diane, it could happen.”

Don’t think we’re done with the discussion yet (which will probably go on until Diane actually DOES the race and reports on it).  But I got to thinking about setting goals, reasonable ones, and all the problems that arise out of perfectionism: first, it’s an impossible standard for us mere mortals; second, it’s a good excuse to NOT DO SOMETHING AT ALL if we’re fearful that we won’t do it perfectly.  (Third might be that our perfectionism can lead us to expect perfection from others and to criticize or castigate those who fall short of perfection — uh, everyone.)

When I go out to train, I have a goal in mind — a mileage goal (not so much a speed goal, though I do like to do a decent pace, a consistent pace).  But lately I’ve been able to split the middle between pushing myself even if I feel tired and listening to my body and doing less.  I don’t usually reset my day’s goal until I’ve done about 10 minutes because I know that in the first 10 minutes my body is asking, “Are you freakin’ crazy?”   After 10 minutes,  reevaluate.

I don’t expect perfection, and I’m happy that the Dead Runners Society has come up with the concept of RPR, or Recent Personal Record.  No good can come from comparing my 5K time now with my 5K time when I was 25.

The longstanding tradition of accepting imperfection comes from all different strands of religious beliefs and practices. This is a broken world, and we’re all broken people.  But we can get better, or keep enjoying ourselves (as I do out running and training for tri’s).  Or we can accept Samuel Beckett’s words: “Try again.  Fail again.  Fail better.”

Read more from Running, Spirituality

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