What is your goal for your next race? I coach adolescent runners, and they are the most susceptible to making unrealistic goals that create more obstacles than successes. It is the folly of brash youth without the temperance of experience. The balance of brashness with experience makes great runs. If my goal for Rodes City Run 10K is 38 minutes, I am setting myself up for failure. My goal has to be personal. progressive, obtainable to be an effective goal that maintains positive growth as a runner. The mistake is to see every race as a finality. A race is a snapshot of where you are in your career as a runner. There are times that a competitive runner wants those snapshots to be certain events-- State XC meets, College Regionals, Olympics, etc. -- and takes measures to create that probability, but not all of us are competitive runners.
I am a competitive runner with myself doubts, my "demons," or my disappointment. Running is personal for me. I'm definite it is personal for others, also. In the Anthem 5K this past weekend, I ran beside a guy who was really pushing himself. He didn't care if I passed him, or he dusted me. His race was internal, the other 9000 people running weren't on the course with him. I crossed the line beside him shook his hand and said, "Great run." I didn't have any demons to run down that day, but I respected him for chasing his away. It is one of the things I find unites runners. I have learned that if I compare my runs to other runners, it defeats my motivation. I respect your efforts on the course. I'm not out there to beat you. I'm out there to tame me.
Running, for me, is a continuum of training, not a series of races. I understand the importance of races. I like running races. I find the camaraderie on the course to be one of the most uplifting things about running. But training is the most important aspect of running. Training is where you show your grit and determination. It's where you create your strategy. The best runners to watch during training runs are the stubborn ones. They take their workouts as seriously as their races. They understand that one workout does not make or break your races. These runners build a progression to their workouts that lead to their goals. Being a runner that understands the delayed gratification of training gives you a huge advantage over the impetuous runners that overtrain or undertrain themselves into inconsequential running. Your progression should fit your goals. If your goal is long term your progression should be slow and steady-- for example running for a college is a slow progression over four years of high school. Short term goals usually have shorter progressions-- like a Couch to 5K program that lasts a month.
When you run, you are very vulnerable. Have you ever noticed at televised races (marathons, triathalons, etc.) runners cross the line in various states of distress and euphoria? At Boston Marathon, there is a volunteer that is a psychologist who talks to the runners to make sure they are OK before the media gets to talk to them. He checks their emotional state and responsiveness. He gives them time to recover and refocus before they are inundated with questions and people. Even the shortest race has an emotional effect on runners. My first 5K after losing 60 pounds was one of the most emotional moments in my life. You are vulnerable as a runner, because no matter how much training, heart, or determination, you can fail. And everyone is there to see it. In a team sport, the team loses. An athlete can hide in the anonymity of the team. Not running. It's you. Alone. You are responsible for your success or failure. That's why it is incredibly important to tailor your goals to yourself and your readiness. It is also important to adjust your goals as unavoidable and uncontrollable circumstances affect your run. At Anthem, I was ready to try to PR if the run developed the way I wanted. I had already planned to pace Coach Tallent for one mile, but if everything felt good, and I had a good line, I was going for it. I had a contingency goal: find someone struggling and help them finish. It wasn't my day, so I chose the latter.
Your goals should be malleable and reactionary to your current state of mind, preparedness, and ability. If I run a 38 minute 10K March 8th, be ready with the AED. My goal is to run a conservative first half, and if things are going well, rock the second half for PR. If not, I'll have a few cards on me and will look for someone to talk to as I cruise to the line. See you then.