In a perfect world, we would be able to continue improving our whole lives. Not just in running, but in everything; our personal development, our relationships, our compassion and love. All of it.
Except life doesn’t happen that way, and actually, we probably wouldn’t want it to even if we DID have the choice, as after all, would you ever learn to appreciate those special moments if you always thought better ones were around the corner?
Nope. Meaning, really, everything is how it should be.
When you look over the course of any area within your life though, you can see that we do have a pretty large period of time where we are improving and growing before each of those areas start to slow down as you age.
We spend most of our life becoming a better person, and sure we might have hiccups or make some bad decisions along the way that might follow us for a while, but overall, as we learn more about who we are and the world that we live in, we keep getting better.
With our running, maybe we will pick it up late in life, and only have a few less years of peak improvement than someone who started in their teenage years or bad luck might cut someone’s running life short, but in my experience, when it comes to running, most people have about the same “life expectancy” of what their body can handle when it comes to mileage as a runner.
That is why many teenage prodigies end up quitting the sport for good in their early 20s, and why many professionals reach the point where their body literally cannot handle a one mile run after all the years of training. Of course there are a few exceptions to this (Deena Kastor and Joan Benoit come to mind), but even they have to accept that things are no longer moving forward.
So how do we come to terms with this?
It is HARD to accept that your best is behind you or even HARD to accept that your best might not be behind you, but it is a LONG way away from where you are now.
How do you set goals? Stay motivated? Believe in yourself? Not compare?
Every single one of us has our own journey, our own story to tell, and I am not going to presume I know yours, but I have been thinking a lot lately about setting new goals, because goals are important, no matter what stage of life you are in. Especially for driven, committed people like you and I.
I have talked in the past about how people become obsessed with their goals, and that is why they don’t achieve them, or put time restraints on goals, and that is why they never happen when they “should”, but this is not about that.
This is about finding a new path, one that you have never traveled down before, that is maybe less intense, less serious, and less involved than other goals, but still just as scary as it is unknown.
I am in this state right now, thinking about my personal running. I gave it up for 3 months, gained the weight I needed to, waited for my passion to come back, and I was rewarded with a beautiful little girl making a home in my belly, but it doesn’t mean that because I am about to become a mum, that all my dreams and goals need to be put aside forever, that I am not allowed to set any challenges to chase.
Same for the rest of you who are saying goodbye to those speedy years when your body is slows down as you age. It doesn’t mean that you can’t have goals.
For me, and likely for you, no structure will leave you feeling very hollow and unfulfilled. If you are a competitive person, you can’t just switch that off, you just have to find new ways to challenge yourself without putting yourself (or anyone else) in harms way.
It just means you have to be a little more careful about what you set yourself, and have to be realistic about where your body is at right now.
For me, I used to run 90 miles a week over and over again during marathon training, and although it was far from easy, I still feel like I was never as tired in marathon training as I was during the first part of my pregnancy. Even now, I sleep 8-10 hours most nights, which was UNHEARD of for me my entire life. You may know I have always battled insomnia, but during hard training, if I got eight hours, I would consider that a great nights sleep.
For obvious reasons, 90 miles a week would be out of the question, not just for the physical part of not having the energy, but I don’t want to. For me, taking care of this little girl is far more important than making my ego happy by running enough miles to compare to my previous running days.
Sure, Gwen Jorgensen may have run 100 miles a week during her pregnancy, and you might see other people you look at and think, “WHAT?! How can they do that when I can barely manage…(insert your insecurity here)…?”, but you have to kind of look at it and think, well, good for you. Chances are, there is another area of your life that you are absolutely CRUSHING, and they are jealous of you for that reason.
Maybe you have a great relationship with your daughter, while others are struggling to get their child to be in the same room as them.
Maybe you live in a place that is sunny most days, and you can appreciate those beautiful blue skies while others life in a grey, cold, miserable place.
Maybe you get to travel for work, getting to go to all kinds of cool places, while others never even get to leave their office or hometown.
There are so many ways we take our life for granted, where others are jealous, but instead, we just look at what they have and we don’t (rather than what we have and they don’t).
So yes, for you, running might not be going so well, or as well as you wish it would, but you have other things going for you.
YOU are a beautiful, brave, strong, wonderful person, who has a lot to offer this world other than running. No matter what you think of yourself in this moment, that is true, so believe it.
Alright, enough with the preachy stuff, how do you ACTUALLY set goals when you don’t know where things are headed?
Well, firstly I like to remind myself that I am doing this for health. Running is amazing for the sense of fulfillment, accomplishment, and community it brings, but at the end of the day, the primary reason we ALL run, is for our health. Be it your physical health, warding off all those health issues that could make your quality of life go down. Be it for the mental break you get during a run where it can just be you alone with your thoughts. Be it for the emotional release you get as pride surges through your body when you got out there and ran, while others sat on the couch eating potato chips.
When I get tempted to push my body further than I know it can handle, I remind myself that I am doing this for my HEALTH, for my babies health, and that does not require a HARD run or a 10 mile run to be considered good enough. The reality is, all you really need is the 150 minutes of exercise per week (or 30 mins 5 days a week). Anything more than that is just a bonus. It doesn’t need to be hard, it doesn’t need to be far, all it needs is for you to get out there, and get your body moving.
So if you are doing that, whether it is running, walking, biking, swimming, or rollerblading, you are accomplishing that goal, the American Heart Association recommendations, NHS guidelines, or whatever your governing body suggests about healthy living.
THAT is a goal for you to set and achieve, every single week.
We can call that a survival goal, and if everything else seems like it is turning against you, THAT can be your goal to achieve each and every week (other than those few times a year you take a complete break, like after a big race, or on vacation). You know that is possible, and it doesn’t have to be fast or even running, but you are getting your body moving for 150 minutes a week.
You are doing this for your health, for your future, and for those who love you.
Beyond that, we can move to the kind of stage I am in, where you need to be veeerrrry careful with where you are shooting for, as you don’t really know how your body is going to feel day by day. I think an entire pregnancy falls in this category, as does recovering from a surgery, serious illness, or running as you age.
In this situation, you might feel AMAZING one day, and absolutely terrible the next, it is absolutely critical that you listen to those warning signs that your body gives you that you are overdoing it (hellooooo headache last weekend!), and take a day (or a few days) easy or even off if you need to.
When it comes to goal setting during this time, it can be tricky, as you can never really anticipate how each week will be. In this situation, I have set two goals for my entire pregnancy. The same as my advice for setting a major running goal, you cannot set a time limit on this type of goal. You know you want to do it at some point, and having that goal will give you the drive to do it when possible, but you just don’t know when that might be.
For me, my first goal was to run 8 miles in a run, as 8 miles is a distance you can’t really fake your way through. If you are to run 8 miles easy, you need to be fit enough to do it, and feeling good enough to make sure your body is ready for it. I achieved this goal last week, as I ran 8 miles on Thursday when the temperature had finally dropped, and I knew as long as I felt good, this was my best shot at feeling decent while I felt such a drastic difference in humidity.
My second goal was to run 30 miles in a week at least once during pregnancy. Now, I told you earlier, I used to regularly run 90 miles a week, so how could I be okay with my goal being ONE THIRD of what I used to do week after week?
Thankfully, having a baby in your belly can do that for you, remind you of what is important, and that allows me to set that as a realistic goal, and work towards it. With only running 4 days a week, I knew this was going to be a tough ask, and it was. I had to run four 7 mile runs then find two additional miles within those runs to achieve it.
I also did that last week, knowing that 8 mile run had given me a bump towards it, but my body had to agree it was ready. Now I know I have accomplished these, I can take the rest of my pregnancy week by week, acknowledging that any week now, my body may decide enough is enough. It felt good to accomplish that goal, but I set something realistic enough to be possible, while giving myself enough time to get there.
If you do not have the reality check of knowing a little persons growth depends on your smart decisions, then you can maybe read back through a time in your life where you had a big injury, maybe you are recovering from that injury now. You would NOT want to go back there, so what is something realistic you can set that would not put you at risk of landing yourself back on the injured bench?
Each goal will be personal to you, but there is nothing wrong with it being less. You are doing the best you can with the situation you have been presented with right now.
If you don’t feel great one week, then that is obviously not the week for your goal, just like my favorite quote, you can try again tomorrow (next week).
Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says I’ll try again tomorrow. – Mary Anne Radmacher
If you are able to get a few training goals in order, but you are still wondering about race goals, I believe these are less important than the training goals. I know that seems counter intuitive, especially in a world where everyone is talking about their goals and what they want to achieve, and trust me, I myself know how powerful visualization can be. However, setting a time goal can be dangerous, as it can cause you to fixate on a certain date to accomplish that goal, and as I have mentioned, that is where the trouble starts.
I believe it is best to just get to race day in the best shape you can possibly be in, and then let the result take care of itself. Use #nowatchme, do not look at your GPS watch during the race, and let your body tell you what it is capable of.
You never know the conditions, the course, your emotions, or even just how you will feel on race day, so let that come to you. All you can do is your best, goals only put pressure on, and if you are not at a place where you are matching your peak fitness, that pressure is only going to make you feel worse, compare more, and ultimately, remove all the joy from running.
If that is too difficult (and honestly, I am not sure how I will handle this postpartum), choose a race or event that can’t really be compared. Trail races are all different distances, terrains, and communities, maybe those would be better for you at this time. It might be refreshing to explore a new part of the running world.
Give it a try, you never know what you will find.
Okay, this has been far longer of a post than I expected it to be, and I apologize if this came across as preachy, but this question from the Superstars community (come join us!), really seemed to be calling out to me, so here are my thoughts on the topic 🙂
How do you set goals in various stages of your life?