I have always been a competitive person. In Jr. High and High School I did not like to lose races but I did. Losing fueled my passion to train more and race harder. Yet, if you think about it, in some races (like in cross-country or road races) there are sometimes hundreds or even thousands of runners and only one overall winner. What then is most people racing for? There has to be more to running than finishing in first place right?
Yes, winning isn’t everything. As much as some runners would like to go undefeated in their lifetime, it isn’t going to happen. There are so many other reasons to run and lessons to learn in the sport of running like “finishing even when things don’t go as planned”. It’s easy to quit when you’ve fallen and gotten hurt or you’ve developed a severe leg cramp but running is about developing toughness, grit, and character. Physical endeavors that push us to the limits strengthen us emotionally and mentally. There is also something very spiritual about achieving things that seem beyond us.
Our expectations in training and racing should be realistic. They should challenge us but not break us. They should be attainable. We also need to understand that everyone has bad days or off days. Bad days doesn’t mean we won’t recover or that reaching our goals is never going to happen. Learning how to handle adversity is the true test. Every great athlete has to learn how to overcome trials.
Running is about being a better person physically, emotionally, and spiritually. A better person not for yourself but for those around us. Running builds us up so we can help build others up. I use to think running was a “solo” sport. I didn’t need others. It wasn’t a “team” sport. I could seek my own success and not worry about anyone else. Well, that can be true to an extent but I have come to find that my running has impacted a lot of other people in my life. My teammates, my coaches, my family and friends….they all matter. When I worked with them, helped them, and listened to them, it allowed me to be a better runner and realize that running can be part of a bigger picture in life.
When you set expectations and goals in training and racing don’t try to be someone else. Train and race as you need to train and race. Most of us are not “elites” and we should not train just like the elites. Our expectations should not be like the “elites”. Secondly, make sure your expectations and goals also fit your life. If you are dating, married, have kids, have teammates; don’t forget that your goals and expectations should take into consideration your life with them. For example, as a husband and father I don’t want my training times and racing schedule to interfere with the quality time I need with them and the memories I want to have with my family. Realistically, I train for only 2 to 3 races a year.
Lastly, there are so many goals and expectations you can set that are healthy and realistic. Personal PR’s, top age group finishes, workout PR’s, finishing a certain number of marathons, getting a certain friend who hasn’t run much to finish a particular race with you, coach someone to hit one of their goals, finish a distance or race you have never attempted before and so much more. By having the right training and racing expectations you can have a really enjoyable and successful career in running. A type of career that will bring you more than medals and prizes but lessons learned and friendships that will last a lifetime.