The Funny Thing About Goals

If you asked me why I run races, the list would look something like this:

1. T-shirt
2. Motivation to actually get out of bed and go running
3. Finish line food
4. Cheering, clapping people who make me cry as I run past

Nowhere on this list is “time on the clock.”

I’m a do-it-to-finish runner. I’m usually racing distances at the outer limits of what I can comfortably run, and so I go in believing that just crossing the finish line is a victory.

But now I’m staring down a goal race, with a goal time, and it’s messing me up.

I can train my muscles and my lungs to carry me across distances. But I have zero mental game. In training, my determination is my strength; I am going to get that run in, hit those paces, cover new distances. I don’t care if I have to wake up early or run in the rain or show up sweaty and red-faced to a sports bar or brunch. No, I can’t stop at 10 miles just because I’m a little tired; the plan said 11, and I will run 11. In races, though, all of that fades away. My goal paces seem out of reach, and then it doesn’t seem like it would be so bad to just walk for a second, and anyway, I’m just running it for the T-shirt, right?

Training for time, I’m quickly realizing, is a whole different game, and I have no idea what it’s going to feel like when I cross that starting line in Miami. Actually, OK, no. It’s that I don’t know what I’m going to feel at mile 5. If I’ve been hitting consistent 9-minute miles, then presumably it’s all awesome and puppies and rainbows and big puffy clouds. But if I haven’t? If I’m even a little bit off? If I feel like I’m working too hard? I have no idea how I’ll react to that.

In training, I don’t react well. Last week, adjusting to the new watch, I kept seeing paces around 9:40/mile on what was supposed to be a 8:59/mile tempo run. And they felt like the hardest 9:40 miles I’ve ever run, and I wanted to shut everything down and go home because obviously I wasn’t going to hit my goal. Turns out, that 9:40 mile was actually an 8:55 mile; the instant pace was just off. But if that bothered me in a mere training run, what on earth am I going to do if things don’t go perfectly on race day?

The funny thing about goals is that I suddenly feel an intense pressure — from myself — to meet them. And that introduces doubt. I want the goal. I like goals! I like having it on the horizon, and on the calendar. I like the idea that all the work I put in could actually pay off.

But will I still feel that way if I miss?

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4 thoughts on “The Funny Thing About Goals

  1. Kelly says:

    I can totally relate to this post – when I set goals I feel a ton of pressure, but sometimes it’s good pressure! I think the only thing to learn how you’re going to “race” is to just keep racing. Then you’ll learn how your body responds, how you feel mentally during the race, etc. Whenever I feel too much pressure, I just remind myself that I do run for fun mainly!

    • kimretta says:

      I like this prescription to race more! I think when Miami is over I’m going to find some smaller, shorter local races, just to get used to pushing myself in that kind of atmosphere before my next big goal.

  2. […] I wrote about being intimidated by my own goals the other day, I was mostly thinking about this week’s long run. When I made my training plan […]

  3. […] first mile is likely to be slow and crowded, and where I really don’t want to get into the psychological train wreck of knowing I’m not at my target pace, I need to know I can speed […]

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