Winter Chill #4: Goal, Plan, or Palanquin?

At about the half mile point of Winter Chill #4 today, Stroller Guy passed me, politely saying “Stroller on your left. Thanks.”

Stroller Guy has run every Winter Chill race this year pushing a jogger. His passenger looks to be a girl of 4 or 5 years old. Not small. Stroller Guy has been near the front of the pack in every race. He’s fast — stroller, kid and all.

But today, Stroller Guy struggled. Not only was the pathway at Cass Park narrow from snow on each side, most of the course had ice patches every few yards, and in places snow had drifted a foot deep, then crusted on top. The drifted snow tripped the rest of us up, but almost brought him to a halt. After passing me neatly, he lost most of that ground pushing the stroller through the first stretch of snow.

Once he cleared the snow field, however, he took off at a fast clip and I forgot about him. Instead, my brain focused on how tired I felt, how the snow field had drained me, how this was not my week for a PR, how maybe I should just jog after all.

several people running
Me (center) at the start of Winter Chill #4

This week, some writing friends and I discussed goals vs. plans. I’d asked for help and advice as I head into my writing group’s annual goals meeting, set for this afternoon, with not a clue about how I should approach 2022 as a creative writer with a full-time day job and a baby.

Fuck goals, came one response. Plans, you can change, said another. Goals are just there to fall short of.

All week, goals and plans chased each other around my writing brain like two groups of kids playing tag — and with no real answers. Best I can figure, a goal is an outcome, a plan is a course of action.

So applied to creative writing for the year: I’ll let off the goals because outcomes are hard to determine let alone achieve; and I’ll make plans, but loosely. Maybe month to month. Or week to week? Because at the moment, I have zero free minutes in each day.

And applied to Winter Chill #4, a 5K race over ice and snow: my brain would not stop churning as I ran. Halfway done, I still didn’t know my plan for the race, and I’d abandoned any goals.

Palanquin: At some point after the turn-around, this word popped into my head.

Palanquin: A covered conveyance, generally for one person, borne by means of poles on the shoulders of four or six men.

Palanquin. Besides being lovely, it connotes luxury, leisure. Being borne aloft. Today, it was a message from my legs to my mind.  My legs were saying: hush up and ride.

Okay. The part of me that was, 3/4 done with the race, still tripping itself over plotting my goals and plans and hopes and dreams for this Sunday race and for the rest of my running life, zipped it.

I thought of the 4 or 5 year old kid in the baby jogger. She just cruises through each race while her father labors to push her.

With a half mile to go in the race, I passed Stroller Guy. It was in the longest snow field, and the snow was really getting him down. Instead of pushing, he’d resorted to pulling the stroller, and it didn’t look like fun. The child, calm as ever, bounced violently side to side, her mittens folded in her lap, her eyes quiet behind her kid-sized face mask.

person holding a baby wearing a blue snow suit
Look who met me at the finish

“Way to go,” I said, or something to that effect. Stroller Guy snorted, and it was a sound of frustration.

Past the snow field, my legs sent another reminder to my brain to sit tight and ride. Then my legs proceeded to accelerate through the last quarter mile and finish in a decent time. A good time. A time that says I’ve been getting faster in the past two years and training has paid off. A time that didn’t fit into any plan or scheme or meet any goal.

Oh, and I stayed ahead of Stroller Guy. Thank the snow for that.

Circling back to Winter Chill #1: At the beginning of this series, I admitted my fear of 5Ks. Today, I got confirmation that I’m not alone in this. At the start, a woman chatting with friends said that races scare her.

“At the turn-around, every time, I think about walking the rest of the way,” she said.

“Why?” said her friend. “You’re afraid you won’t meet your expectations?”

“No. That’s not it. I don’t know. I can’t tell you why, but this makes me nervous.”

Same here. Races still make me nervous, but now I have a month of experience to counteract the irrational fear.