I've had a few different posts bouncing around my head these past few weeks. My datebook has post-it notes with these little ideas and half-thoughts sticking out of it in hopes that I don’t forget anything I wanted to say. If you hadn't noticed, I’ll point out that there are two new pages on this blog. For some reason those were easier for me to write and post than a traditional entry. I’d love your feedback on both. I have plans for another page or two, all in good time.
With that housekeeping business handled, I’ll get right into what has been occupying my brain space. Expectations. What are they, who has them, and how do I manage them. For the most part I think that the major expectations in my life come directly from me, on a variety of subjects. Most commonly, of course, is running. I think part of my issue with having expectations is what happens if you fail to meet them. I am absolutely my own worst critic and I know that is why I have not been particularly open with some of my more recent running-related goals or actions.
I have gotten better at becoming more realistic with my expectations, and that is crucial. It is possible to dream big, believe in your potential, and still be realistic (given your current life circumstances) about what is achievable. This doesn't end once you set a goal or a desired outcome specific to that goal. As you begin to take steps to reach your goal, it is imperative that you reflect and reevaluate along the way. Life can throw so many things on our path, whether it be related to work, family, or physical health, and all of those things can impact meeting those pesky expectations.
I’ll give you the example that has been dogging me for months. I have set my eye on completing my first 50k. It has been on my radar since early winter 2012. The original plan was to train for the 2nd marathon (scheduled for March 2013), take a week or two to recover, and then tack on another 8 weeks or so of workouts that would maintain my fitness until the 50k the first weekend of June. It seemed logical at the time. I was in a supervised marathon training program and had a solid 50k training plan that overlapped with the end of the marathon cycle. I had the time to devote to training. The race was local, which eliminated a lot of stressors. What I didn't plan on was how lackluster my marathon training turned out to be (100% on me) and how not fun running was by April 2013. It felt like a chore. I didn't want to run. Period. It wasn't fun. I made the call (days before the race) to back out. I was angry and frustrated with myself.
Because I so completely missed that goal, I was humiliated. Most of my friends and extended social circle knew that I was registered for that race. It was awful. The race organization was incredibly gracious and let me transfer to another 50k event later in the year but that did little to ease the sting. I did not start to get my running mojo back until later in the summer, at which point I was starting from scratch. I wanted to run but my body was reminding me what time off meant to my fitness. It didn't take long for me to realize that the 50k wasn't going to happen in 2013, period. I struggled through Ragnar in late September and then threw in the towel. It was the smart thing to do, particularly since my body began rebelling in October and has been doing so ever since.
My first mistake was not honestly reflecting on the likelihood of meeting my goal given the change in circumstances. I didn't want to accept that not racing meant that I had failed. Thinking about it now, I don't think that missing the race a second time was a failure. I think not listening to my body and being realistic about what I was physically and mentally capable of was a failure of sorts. Honestly, I didn't really embrace that truth until a few weeks ago. It took me a YEAR. In that time I took on a coach and tried to force my body to cooperate when it wasn't ready and I didn't have all the tools to do it the right way. I'd like to say that with this new perspective the third time would be the charm for this 50k. Not so much.
I'm participating in the race series in December, but at the half marathon distance. By no means am I letting go of my 50k goal. No way. But I'm going to be a bit more cautious in my approach, be realistic about what I am capable of, and continually reflect along the way. When the time comes for me to make that leap, I am going to crush it. I know that I am not alone in struggling with expectations in training and racing. There have been times when I have made it to race day and not had the performance I hoped for. While I didn't like the discomfort of it, I did sit down (after a brief pity party) and look at what went wrong. Most of it had been under my control. I'm not saying that you can't be upset or disappointed when a race goes awry. You absolutely can; that is totally human. What you can't do is ignore the role you may have played in the outcome. If you do, the odds are that you'll make those mistakes again. And again.
This isn't rocket science. But because it requires us to look at ourselves honestly (and without judgment), we tend to get uncomfortable. It isn't fun. There are plenty of reasons not to do it and plenty of external factors to lay the blame upon. Remember that running doesn't have feelings. It won't pout if you cross-train one day a week instead of hit the road. Running doesn't judge you, you judge you. Managing expectations is all about the end game and I think that runners of all people can understand that. We've got long-sighted covered. If you can, take a moment today to think of an expectation you have of yourself or you believe that someone else has of you. Without judgment, consider if it is fair/honest/reasonable. It doesn't have to be running related, just give it a shot. I took me a year to get this concept through my head, but it has been beyond worth it. Trust me.