Thursday, February 23, 2012

Getting Honest About Goals

"If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be.  Now put the foundations under them." ~ Henry David Thoreau
"Great things are not done by impulse, but by a series of small things brought together."~ Vincent Van Gogh
There was a time in my life when I hoped for something for nothing - that is, I hoped that somehow, on just the right day, at just the right race, I would have a shinningly brilliant performance that would blow me away. I first noticed this tendency in my twenties when I wanted, above all else, to break 40 minutes in the 10k. Somehow the idea of running 39:59 - as opposed to 40:01 -  meant something of great importance to me. Somehow that arbitrary number would justify my commitment to running. Somehow, that magical number would make me a real runner.

I would often tell myself  "If you really want this give it all you've got, and it will happen". After all. it's only 6.2 miles - and it doesn't take that long, so if I just pushed with all my might - I could run way faster - just this once. But it didn't happen, and back then I felt that I was giving it all I had, except for those inevitable parts of races where you lose your focus just a bit, and slack off for those crucial moments. But my problem wasn't really my lack of will and fortitude during races. My problem was that I wasn't really training with that goal in mind. I just kept hoping for some unprecedented moment of speed, strength, endurance, and mental focus and resolve that would carry me to my moment of glory. But that never happened because I hadn't done my homework. And, each time I crossed the finish line with 40... flashing in front of me, I would literally and figuratively kick my weak self for days to come.

Then I decided that it mattered to me and I went to the track and I ran intervals. I did what I needed to do, and ran 39:21. It all clicked - I did my homework, I prepared, and I finally saw that 39...flashing as I went over the finish line.

And then I quit racing for close to 20 years. I couldn't take the pressure (I placed on myself) and I started hating racing. I was done. I wanted to continue doing the things I enjoy - running long miles - and not doing the things that would make me faster - dreaded speed work. Of course I dreaded speed work because I sucked at it and I sucked at it because I never did it (and, I suspected, because it's not my natural strength). I continued running 40-50 miles a week, year after year, for the pure running of it - but I said good riddance to my racing days, hung up my facing flats, and told tall tales of how I lost or permanently disfigured most of my toenails.

When we moved from Maine to Colorado and stuffed all our worldly belonging into our fairly sketchy Dodge van for the long trek west, the running trophies were left with the trash sitting in front of our empty apartment. Good riddance, I told myself again. And I never looked back...until I did.

And I never really let the lessons I learned soak in and gel, so to speak, until I returned to racing in my 40s - this time running marathons.

You really can't fudge the training when it comes to running marathons - and even when your training is spot-on, you can still have a bad day, and the whole thing falls apart. When it comes to marathon training I believe firmly in the value of sticking to a plan, doing the necessary key workouts, knowing where you're at and where you want to go - You do the work, then you're ready to run the pace you trained for - but there will be no rabbits pulled out of hats in the marathon - at least not for this runner.

So now, 52 days away from running Boston, I find myself in a very uncomfortable situation. As I've already bemoaned in earlier posts, I've had a couple tough weeks with a concussion and then the flu - both of which wiped me out and sent me off to bed for what seemed like days on end - and this came on the heels of dealing with a foot issue that kept me from doing my faster training.

Now I'm feeling better, ready to go, but I feel that I've lost so much. When I look at my schedule I'm pretty confident that I can do the long runs - endurance is my strength - but those tempo, and LT, and MP runs...? Hmmmm, what is my "marathon pace" right now, I wonder. I knew the answer to this a couple months ago - before my foot injury, head injury, and sickness. But now, I just don't know.

My expectations for Boston were high a few months ago. I rarely race at sea level, and so this is an exciting prospect for me. But given this training cycle, I just don't know what to expect. When I compare where I am this year with this time last year, I despair. When I ran the Colorado Marathon last May I knew what pace I trained for and ran it with confidence in the race. I loved feeling somewhat in control and capable. But my training this winter has been spotty and uneven and I've been forced to miss key workouts that address my weaknesses (because those are, of course, the most difficult ones for me).

So the next couple of weeks, assuming I stay healthy, I must work to assess where I'm at now, not where I wish to be, not where I was 3 months ago, but right now. I must make the best of the situation which is unfortunately not ideal  and set my new goals and expectations realistically.

I wish I could just magically will myself to run the paces I was fit to run in November. But much has happened since then. I'd like to feel that somehow this relieves me of some of the self imposed pressure I place on myself, and perhaps it will. But that hasn't happened yet. But I won't fall into the error of believing that if I fall short of achieving my desires, that it's due to a weak will. I will do what I can to set realistic yet still ambitious aims.

I will take to heart the lessons my younger self might have learned, had I been listening and paying attention to what my heart and my head tried to tell me. And, one of my biggest regrets is leaving all those trophies out with the trash and telling myself that they didn't matter. A little piece of me was left out on that curb with them. Luckily, I've managed to hold on to  the rest of the pieces so that I may, one day, puzzle them together. Perhaps.


  1. In my daily work I talk a lot about "magical thinking", "should-ing all over ourselves", and "must-urbating". But where you are when the race begins, is where you're supposed to be in your life at that moment in time -- with the nasty flu, freaky head injury, and nagging foot problems in your history, as well as that kick-ass spirit and determination you seem to have tattooed to your personality. Be proud of who you are and however you do. You rock, woman!

  2. I am so sorry for what you've had to deal with the last couple months. This was so well stated, and it's something I really needed to read right now. My first race of the season is in one month (just an 8K), and I have two weeks of PT left, and just started a core class. Knowing I most likely won't PR in this race is eating me up inside. I think you have the fortitude to go into Boston knowing what you're capable of, pushing just enough, and still being satisfied with the result. I am pulling for you most definitely. I will remember what you've said here when I begin my training for Chicago 2012, my first marathon.

  3. It's a tough spot you are in, getting ready to run a race that has significance for so many, and feeling like you aren't quite at your best- through circumstances beyond your control.
    I'm preparing for my significant race, and was told that only if I hit all my key workouts spot-on will I be able to do it this year. (yeah talk about pressure, all the workouts?).
    I have no "advice" to give you just a note really to let you know I get how you are feeling.

    And a note to say "curse that Magical thinking"! I did it last year when I was horribly unprepared for a Marathon, and darn it all that was one miserable race. I just kept thinking "Race day adrenaline" yeah, it might carry one through 5K, but not 26.2. Since that mistake, I am now pretty realistic, though with my upcoming half I have been toying with some magical numbers again (if the wind is Just right...)

    Train hard now and ENJOY Boston.


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