We all know of someone who worked her tail off to qualify for the 2016 Olympic Trials Marathon or 2016 Boston or to break 23:00 in a 5k before she reached 35, but then didn’t make it. Despite having the heart and putting in the work, she heartbreakingly fell short of her goal. Maybe you can relate a little to this or maybe this has happened to you.
We make a big race goal and expect to work toward achieving it in 12 – 20 weeks and if it doesn’t happen, we end up wondering what went wrong. We assume something went wrong because we believed if we followed the plan, it would work. The reality is that sometimes one training cycle is enough time to make the fitness gains we need to achieve our goals, but often it’s not. And what’s really hard to stomach is that there really was nothing else we could have done differently to achieve our goals in that time frame. There was nothing wrong with our training, our race day nutrition or ourselves. We just didn’t give it enough time.
Despite how nice it would be if it were, running gains are not as simple as following a training plan. In baking you follow the plan and you get a cake. In running you follow a plan and you get whatever your body is capable of on the day you chose to test it. That uncertainty can be maddening.
Instead, training is a physiological process, a process which may or may not lead to the results you seek on a given day and may never lead to those results. There are no guarantees. Our bodies are like machines in many ways, but unlike them in one critical way: they can’t always be programmed to do things on command. If any of you reading this has tried to get pregnant, you know no matter how much you want that baby by a certain date, there’s no way to guarantee it will happen. It might happen perfectly easily on the first try, there might be years of frustration before it finally happens, or it might never happen. There are some things you can do to increase your odds, but many factors are out of your hands. Achieving mental and physical fitness is similar. Some people do the training and … BAM! Nail it. Others struggle with frustration and setback for years.
If you knew you’d eventually run that 2:45/3:30/3:59 in six years instead of next month, how would you feel? Would you be able to let go and enjoy the process more? Does it matter if it happens next month or in six years? Are you maybe, just maybe, driving yourself crazy by expecting it to happen now rather than allowing the process to do its thing and … gasp … enjoying that process in the meantime? And the crazy thing is, if you let go and take away the time pressure, I bet you’ll be more likely to meet that goal.
Think about it: deadlines mean pressure and stress. When you line up at a race with the belief that it must happen now or never, the pressure can be overwhelming and way counter-productive. It’s hard to run relaxed and at your best when you believe that you MUST. RUN. A. HUGE. PR. RIGHT. NOW! and do not see the future beyond the finish line. And then, perhaps worse, it’s hard to feel the run-love after the race when you feel perpetually disappointed. Why do we keep doing this?
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with hoping to achieve a certain goal by a certain date. Sometimes having a firm date to achieve something can be just the kick in the pants we need to go for a big-dream kind of goal. That’s great, but instead of heading into your next big race with an I-Must-Run-My-Goal-Time-TODAY, instead say to yourself:
I will achieve my goal; it’s just a matter of time.
How about you? Do you put deadlines on achieving your running goals?