Letting Go: When You Never Meet Your Big Goals

You trained like you’ve never trained before. Your training plan was your bitch this season, and you were happily posting #crushedit selfies right and left on Instagram. You arrived at the starting line ready to slay this race. And then … you don’t.

Okay. You are resilient. You suck it up, sign up for another race, repeat the process, hope for the best… and wind up with the same result.

Sure I ran a crappy time but I got to look like Elaine Benez while doing it!

Everyone tells us to set big goals. Running magazines, social media, even shoe companies, will throw inspirational phrases around like “dream big, run long,” “if your dreams don’t scare you, they’re not big enough,” or “the body achieves what the mind believes.” But how do you handle it when you set big goals and you don’t meet them. How do you handle it when you set the same big goal over and over, but you NEVER meet them?

I’ve been chasing a sub-1:30 half marathon for about 3 years now. That’s a long time for some people to chase one goal, but not as long as others. I’ve gotten as close as 1:31:14 on a hilly course, but usually land in the 1:33/1:34 range. There was a time when I was devastated about never reaching my goal, but now I’m trying to make peace with the fact that this may never happen for me. The hardest part for me is reconciling all the training. I’ve spent hundreds of dollars, countless hours away from my family and damage done to my body, and for what? Not a 1:29 half, that’s for sure.

So how do we bounce back? How do we reconcile the countless hours of mental and physical training with the lack of results we have to show for it? I posed this question to my friends — as it turns out, many of them have goals they never reached! Here are some of the answers we came up with.

Find the Positive

This is what any Suzy Sunshine will tell you: focus on what went right! If you’re like me — more Debbie Downer than Suzy Sunshine — it’s hard to find any positives in some races. I think the only positive I could find in my last half is that my shoes didn’t come untied and I didn’t poop my pants.

I had to look at my training to find positives. I ran three 1600s in 6:05 — my fastest ever. True, it was by myself on a dark middle school track and there was no one there to see or hand me a medal, but my Garmin and I know what happened. I also ran my highest average mileage ever. As someone who struggled to get in 10 miles a week for a few years, 57 is a huge accomplishment.

Focus on the Lessons Learned

Oh my gosh so much fun.

After some self-flagellation, I had to admit that I learned a few things from my failed attempts at breaking 1:30. Although you’d think I would have learned not to start too fast by now, it turns out that I haven’t. The two biggest bombs I can think of came when I ran the first 5K under 6:50 pace — a pace I know is way too fast but feels so good in the first few miles! I also have been trying to learn to run my race — not the girl next to me who I think I might be able to beat but is running a 6:30 first mile. Was it worth it to train my butt off just to learn to slow down at the start of a race? Ehh, I guess a lesson learned is a lesson learned.

Gain a Little Perspective

It’s easier to see things differently as time passes. Our own Salty said, “I now see what I achieved, what seemed mediocre and borderline embarrassing back then, as real accomplishments that I’m proud of.” I feel that way a bit too when it comes to shorter distances. I used to be better at 5ks and 10ks, but as I get older I’m finding it hard to be as speedy as I used to. When I ran a 20:03 5k, I was so disappointed that I hadn’t squeaked in under 20, but now I’m so proud that I was able to run that time on relatively little training. In a few years, when I’m not racing anymore, I’ll look back and think a 1:31 half marathon is amazing — which I have to admit it kind of is!

Finishing is Winning and All That Nonsense

I know it’s an old, tired saying. But it’s so true! The amount of people who can train for 12-20 weeks for any sort of goal is pretty low. But the fact that we can train for that period of time, ace the training, and then complete a long-distance race? That’s pretty spectacular, whether it’s our first race or 100th.

Pick Better Goals

My personal takeaway on missing my goals is this: pick a better one. In fact, I’m not sure that assigning a time goal to any race is wise for me. When I’m super fixated on a time goal, I tend to stare at my watch and ignore how my body’s feeling. It has never gone well for me. I am doing the Houston Half Marathon in mid-January, and my goals are as follows:

  1. start conservatively,
  2. finish strong,
  3. run controlled.

Having now run several halfs where I felt miserable for the last 5 miles (one of which I fainted and DNF’d at mile 12.8), I can say that running controlled will be such a better experience, it will hopefully make up for whatever the time on the clock is.

Enlist Healthy Coping Mechanisms Stat

My family all still loves me…also, surprise, family! You’re on the internet!

Does running tuck you in at night? Do you have a picture of your PR in your wallet next to your kids? Do you get paid to crush every single race? No, of course not. It’s helpful sometimes to remind myself of this after a bad race. As one of my friends said, this is a HOBBY. It’s supposed to be FUN. It’s not supposed to make us so depressed and sad that we cry ourselves to sleep and throw away our race medals (this is a hypothetical situation from a hypothetical friend who used to take running way too seriously). It’s just a bad race — no one died, people still love us, we still have friends and family and tacos to eat.

In today’s social media culture, where we constantly see Insta-stars boast about hitting big, scary goals and #killingit with huge PRs over and over, it’s easy to forget that we don’t know their whole back story, or how many goals they had to revise to get where they are. So let’s remember that we are crushing it just by being out there, no matter what our times are.

I am a stay at home mom and group fitness instructor from South Texas. I love reading, wine, and travel. I write about trends, injury prevention and maintenance, and satire. I am training to break 1:30 in the half marathon sometime soon, and for the 2017 Boston Marathon.

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  1. ❤️ I still am amazed at all the hobby runners that wake up at 4 am to run, lol. Or the ones that will run in -89764 degree weather just to post a picture of frozen hair or eyelashes. I’m running on my treadmill at 9:00 min miles and super proud of it. It takes a lot to enjoy tacos and not look like a Gordita 😂

  2. This is so good! I hope I’ll be singing a different tune after my big races this year (in which I hope to, you know, achieve my goals!) but I had a few disappointing races in 2017 and every point you listed was SO key in mentally bouncing back and moving on. Thankfully, only one such race resulted in tears and dramatic proclamations of “I should just quit this running shit!” and that feeling was short-lived. That was a half marathon in May. I ran another half in September with the explicit goal to just have fun, ran the EXACT same time, and had a great time doing it.

    “I now see what I achieved, what seemed mediocre and borderline embarrassing back then, as real accomplishments that I’m proud of.” This also resonates. The indoor track personal bests that I ran in university were not particularly impressive to me back then, but in the past year I’ve really recommitted to training for the first time in the five years since graduating. And that’s helped me to realize — man, I worked HARD for those PBs! Though I consider myself to be in okay shape right now, I don’t think I could currently run even one kilometer at the pace at which I could once race a 1500m. Perspective is key.

    On a semi-related tangent, something that hit home the other day: the beautiful thing about running is that no matter how much slower I get as I get older, whether I’m 35 or 75… I will always be able to run a hard workout/race relative to my current ability, and enjoy the satisfaction and tired legs that result from a hard effort, no matter the pace. Awesome!

  3. Olive, I love this. This is the story of my college running career. I wanted to break a 5:00 mile, since we race the 1500 instead of 1600, you have to go with conversions. Well, my conversion was 4:58-5:03, depending on how fast the last 100m would have been. Not clearly under 5:00. For the 800, I wanted to be under 2:20.The very last 800m I ever ran, they announced my finish time over the loud-speaker as 2:19. I was elated. Well, on official results, it was 2:20.02. Wanted to break 60 in the 400. Ran a 58.5 in practice once (probably not a correct time haha), but my fastest recorded time was 61.

    But you know what? When I crossed the finish line of my last collegiate race, all the sudden, none of that disappointment mattered. I realized I had accomplished something really hard, I had poured my heart and soul into it, and I was proud of what I had accomplished.

    Now I am probably overly-cautious about goal setting. I made my marathon time goals based on how training goes, not based on what time I want to run. One of my running partners keeps hassling me to get serious about training and train for an OTQ. She can’t seem to understand that I don’t want to do that. My PR time is 10 minutes slower than an OTQ. That’s a huge difference, and I personally do not think it is within my physical ability to run a 2:45..Just like I wasn’t a sub-5 minute miler. And more important, I am happy with where I am with running. I enjoy it, I have no time/pressure goals. I needed to let go of time goals in able to truly appreciate the sport again.

    Another cool thing– When you aren’t looking for a “fast” course, it opens up a lot of slower, but beautiful race courses! Maybe on trails, or with lots of hills, etc. Always trying to find a “fast” course limits your options!!

    I love your post so much. I love your goals for your upcoming race. Maybe just gettting out there and enjoying yourself more, since you won’t be tied to the watch/pace, will actually open you up for a PR race. Who knows?! And if that happens, great, and if not, great, at least you will have enjoyed it 🙂 Keep us posted on how you do and mostly, have fun doing it!

    1. Thanks Cocoa! You’re right, I love the freedom that comes with getting to run whatever race I want and not worry about how it will affect my finish time.