There is a small, red, plastic bag on the floor in my closet. When it arrived in the mail, I thought, “What the hell is this?” It was from Yeti Trail Runners. I had signed up for a 24-hour challenge a few weeks prior but was no where near ready to complete it, 30 miles run in a day in 5 miles increments, every four hours. It’s an insidiously clever way to make a hard thing harder.
And now, as it turns out, Yeti was performing the opening maneuver of psychological jiu jitsu on me by sending the “prizes” for completing the challenge before I’d completed it.
I quickly stuffed the shirt and medal and stickers back in the bag. I’m not big on prizes anyway, but the idea of possessing these things without having earned them was a non-starter. The bag sat mocking me in the kitchen for a day or two, before I relocated it to the floor of the closet.
This is when the cleverness of Yeti’s method began to dawn on me. I first thought to hide the bag, so I didn’t have to look at it, but then I thought that being able to see it might be some small motivation to keep at my training in advance of earning its contents.
It is possible that this is not some bold psychological masterstroke. It is possible that, having pocketed my registration fee, it was just easier to go ahead and mail the reward, assuming I wasn’t a person who wears t-shirts proclaiming vast physical prowess I don’t possess. Hard to say how safe that bet is/was, but from a bookkeeping and task completion POV I get it.
I am not very good at planning. I don’t perceive time very well, and so things that are happening in the future tend to creep up on me. The bag kept me aware of my commitment. The bag got me to run on the slow, sleepy, middle-of-the-week days that might easily have slipped into the past like a whisper. The bag startled me some mornings when I woke up, stumbling into the closet for a pair of shorts. It was smart to make the bag red, even if it was just the red bags that were in stock when they bought the bags.
One day in the next week or two, I will get up at 2am, pull on my shoes and a headlamp and head out for a 5 mile run. The first one will be sleepy and surreal, I imagine, but not too hard. What will happen after that I don’t know. Probably like most long runs there will be easy moments and more challenging ones. At some point, I will be in the red. And then I’ll be done, and I can pull on whatever that shirt is, set the medal and stickers aside, and throw away that evil bag.