There’s a reason why there are so many memes and tropes build around the theme of “Expectation vs. Reality”: it’s because the tension is real.
It’s part of the human condition. No matter where or who you are, there’s a gap between your current reality and what you expect, and it’s natural to want to close the gap. You can either close the gap by changing your reality or changing your expectations.
The thing is, expectations are often a lot more malleable than reality. Reality is a messy, chaotic, Brownian thing, shaped not just by your actions but also the actions of others around you; not just by your wishes but also by the wishes of others related to you; and not just by your history but also the history of others who came before you. How can you fight a typhoon of conflicting, clashing forces, the sum of all fears, the product of all appetites?
So you shift your expectations. You resign yourself to reality, surrender to its ebbs and flows, to its whims and caprices, which seem to be nothing more than random flux, no more predictable than the winds of a hurricane. You change to suit the environment. You become one with the mob. It’s adaptation, you tell yourself. It’s what you have to do to survive.
However, closing the gap by changing your expectations isn’t really the way to be happy. You bend and blow in the wind, and thus avoid getting your spirit broken, but it leaves the spirit flaccid and shapeless, a tree that does not stand.
So, here’s the question for today: should you live your life waiting for others to be okay with what you really want? Or should you live life changing what you want based on what others prefer or expect?
Or should you live your life based on what you expect for and from yourself?
A better question: when does expectation dictate reality, and when does reality dictate expectation?
So during the latter half of my 32-km run last week, I was feeling very, very crappy. They say that actions affect attitude; what you do affects your thoughts, so if you want to be a good person, do good things, and do bad things if you want to be a bad person, and so on. In this case, the way my body was feeling–the sore muscles, the aching feet, the sweating, the creaking joints–was starting to affect me, and negative thoughts started bubbling up in the cauldron of my mind.
Run Phase 3: The Existential, Please-Let-This-End Phase
This is the part where I started feeling deep regret. Well, that’s for lack of a better word. If there’s a word for when you want to kill your past self for deciding on something (e.g., signing up for a 32-km race) that’s affecting you negatively now, I don’t know it.
At this point, using my legs was like riding a horse whose previous owner had abused it terribly: they couldn’t do what I wanted them to do, and they groaned and wobbled with each step. I would think “why am I running a route that just takes me back to where I started?” and “I could have passed all these places at a fraction of the time and for a fraction of the price I paid registering for this race by just taking public transportation”, and “What do I get from this? Bragging rights? I’m no bragger, so what’s the point?”. These thoughts passed through me, fueled by the lactic acid building up in my body.
Around me, other runners were struggling too, though some less than others. I noticed the ones who still had a decent gait and form were generally the ones wearing compression socks. I have never tried them, because they were too pricey for my taste, and I wanted to finish the race without any special equipment beyond the clothes on my back and the shoes on my feet. I suppose I secretly always thought compression socks were an unfair advantage for some reason, though really, if I had the income to pay for them, I probably would pay for that edge.
Every step was a cruel, taunting thing: there was so much effort and strain involved for very, very little return. I wouldn’t say I was in pain, necessarily, but the soreness in my legs made it damned close. Still, I knew that every time I lifted a foot and put it down, it brought me closer to the goal I’d set, took me further from the other runners I’d left behind (yes, I can be kind of competitive), and gave me a little bit more Stoic pride.
A bit of digression: the Stoic philosophy is based on the idea that your circumstances don’t matter, but your perceptions of and reactions to your circumstances do. So it doesn’t matter how painful or excruciating an experience is, as long as you can tackle it with an attitude of indifferent resilience. Stoics aren’t “meh” people like a lot of folks think they are; they’re actually very, very mentally strong. In fact, some of the most famous stoics in history actively sought out struggle, bathing in the coldest waters, eating only simple food, and even wearing ridiculous-looking clothing in order to steel themselves against the worst physical, mental, and emotional stresses that life could throw at them (even if it wasn’t throwing it at them yet).
As we runners plodded along Buendia in the early morning June heat, crossing the South Luzon Expressway half-dead in sweat and dirt, some half-naked and wearing their shirts as makeshift sweatbands, most of us grunting instead of speaking and dousing ourselves in water at every hydration station, I knew in my heart that we must have been the very picture of Stoicism.
The last 5 km was just me walking, plodding towards the finish line, back to where we had begun. 7 AM had come and gone, and I’d resigned myself to the fact that miracles don’t happen. You don’t post a sub-4.5 time for a 32-km race unless you put in the work for months beforehand, which I had not. So I put myself in a state of determined resignation, taking my sore muscles and creaking joints on a 45-minute excursion to the end. I was both sadist and masochist. Each step was torture, but it was torture I willingly inflicted upon myself and accepted from myself. Such a pain, but damn it, it was an ordeal that I would see through.
Skinny guys passed me. Fat men passed me. Younger ladies passed me. Older women passed me. I didn’t care anymore. One line from the Bazz Luhrmann classic sunscreen song echoed in my head: “The race is long, and in the end, it’s only with yourself”.
At the end, they were handing out medals for the 32-km finishers. When I signed up for this race, the medal was such a powerful incentive. But right then and there, in my exhausted and frustrated state, it just seemed like they were rewarding me for nearly killing myself going over that distance by presenting me with a lovely lump of metal, which I could hang around my neck like the most beautiful burden in the world.
I wonder how many kings developed physical defects from wearing heavy crowns all the time?
Post-Mortem: Alchemizing Poison into Ambrosia
So the experience I had is arguably one of the worst I’ve ever gone through. But as I drove home, thinking about it, it was still a positive experience. If nothing else, it taught me the value of resilience: push, push, and push, and you’ll get to your goal, however weak or ugly the finish.
It gave me a reason to believe in my potential a little more: if I could finish this challenge with minimal preparation, then there were probably a lot of other things I could do but I wasn’t letting myself try out of a misguided fear of failure.
It reminded me of the importance of preparation and consistency: if I’d continued my practice runs and core exercises instead of stopping them for a month, I’m sure I would’ve posted a much better PR.
And finally, it gave me a glimpse into the heart of people: different we were, from very varied walks of life, and yet we were all there taking on this race. The thirst for fulfillment, the drive to challenge ourselves, was something that brought us all together on that Sunday morning. It was a gathering that was more strenuous and less dignified than any religious mass could possibly be, but in a way, it was more fulfilling.
Point of pride: I ran a 32-kilometer run, and posted my best time for that distance.
My dirty secret: It was my first time to run that distance, and it was still a lousy time, and I had a terrible time doing it.
Ill-prepared and Ill-equipped
Going into this, I knew it was going to be a not-so-good effort. While I had run 3 half-marathons before (that’s 21 km each), those were runs for which I had prepared as vigorously as I could. For this one… not so much. Between the summer heat and my work/life schedule lately, I was too pooped to practice.
In addition to that, I didn’t do the right carbo-loading. No matter how strong or fit you are, your body still needs fuel to perform. Taking on a long run without enough fuel is like trying to go on a long road trip with only a tenth of your tank full. I’m not a big eater to begin with, so though I didn’t feel it at the time, I’m pretty sure I was running on fumes near the end of the race.
Plus, I’m pretty sure I didn’t get enough rest and warming up done. I slept far less than I should’ve before the race, and ended up sleeping the hour before gun start instead of stretching and warming up like I should’ve. So I’m fairly sure that affected my performance.
All of these are not me trying to justify my bad time; far from it, this is a post-mortem examination. This is me trying to figure out what the hell went wrong. The alternative is to just accept that I couldn’t have done any better, and the truth is, I could have had a much better time by managing my preparation better.
Run Phase I: Delusional, “It’ll Be Fine” Phase
Of course, I didn’t admit that to myself right away. At the beginning, I still had a positive attitude about the whole affair. “I’ve run long distances before,” I thought, so mentally, I know what it takes to go the distance and will myself to the finish line. This’ll be another step in my running career, and I just have to stay positive throughout to get through.
I let these kinds of thoughts percolate through me as I negotiated the beginning phase of the run. One foot in front of the other. Alternated between running and walking (I don’t have a running watch, so I just based it on my running playlist: I ran for 2 full songs, then just walked during the intro and first verse of the third song, and went like this for the first 10 km), and stopped for Gatorade every chance I could (for hydration and calories. Fun fact: Gatorade was developed in 1965 upon request of the head coach of a football team called the Florida Gators, hence the name).
My running playlist also served me up some good songs to keep my spirits up. The very first song was the Savage Garden classic “The Animal Song” (Around 15 years old and still catchy as ever). “Don’t Stop Me Now” by Queen was a fun one. Then there was “No Doubling Back” by Jason Mraz (from an early concert at the Eagles Ballroom), which is actually an upbeat take on breaking up, but the operative lyric which became like a mantra for me was “no doubling back”.
Finally, there was fun.’s “Some Nights”, a catchy, upbeat bastard child of marching anthem and pop song. While it did lift my spirits, it’s one of those songs that sounds lively but hides possibly downer lyrics. Lines like “I still don’t know what I stand for” and “I sold my soul for this? Watched my hands of that for this? I missed my mom and dad for this?” make it great fare for those prone to existential brooding and questioning their life choices. This was probably foreshadowing a later phase of my run experience.
Run Phase 2: Starting to Feel the Heat
This happened around the tenth kilometer, when I literally started feeling the heat. It’s always been my problem: I get too hot and stifled because my body heats up too quick. As I got to the top of the first overpass, I decided I couldn’t take the heat anymore (it was too stuffy despite the fact that we were running in the early morning), so I proceeded to remove my singlet. Effectively, I was half-naked for two-thirds of the race distance (there will probably be pictures of that online, as many photographers cover running events. But I don’t want to take the effort to scour the Internet for those, plus I don’t want to inflict that intentionally on anybody, so I won’t post them here.
I considered just leaving it behind somewhere, but I don’t like littering or leaving clutter in public places, and it would be too embarrassing to walk up to some random stranger and say “I don’t need this anymore; you can keep it” as I hand them this sweaty and hot small size racing singlet. (Seriously, it was gross. If a T-800 had come back from the future naked right then and there, saying “I need your clothes” to me, it probably would have refused to wear that singlet, adding “No, that’s okay. I’ll accost some other person.”) So I ended up doing different things like stuffing it down my shorts or tying it around my running belt before deciding that using it as a bandana, soaking it in cold water every so often, was the best course of action under the circumstances.
As the race went on, my body felt worse: my calves started seizing up, and at some point as I was pushing against a lamppost to stretch them, a jeepney driver yelled out “Come on, run already!” (perhaps it was his idea of encouragement). The heat got more unbearable as the sun rose, forcing me to stuff ice down my shorts. Every time I passed by an ambulance, I was praying that the volunteers would have Omega liniment to spray on my legs.
All this happened between 5 AM and 5:30 AM. Basically, I was still trying to keep the dream of finishing before 7 AM alive, and was doing everything to address my body’s very, very legitimate complaints. And the complaints were getting louder, to the point where even my mind started joining the strike.
(I’ll finish the story next week; for now, I have to rest and start to properly recover.)