Measuring performance in running is very different to most other sports.
It is totally up to you.
Sure, you can be part of a team that qualifies for other races. You can compete against other people to chase medals or records. Other runners can inspire you to run better than you would have without their support.
Even considering this, at the end of the day, only you, and the space between your ears can decide just how fast you run.
All those accumulated hours of pain, mental battles against our inner demons, blisters so bad it hurts to walk, are only made worthwhile when we reach our potential.
This could be many things:
- Completing a 5k in under 30 minutes
- Achieving a Boston qualifier
- Hitting the Olympic trials standard
- Running a time fast enough to where your country will finally consider you good enough to represent them…..
Other than a few Olympians who dream of, and win an Olympic Gold, the goals for runners all have one thing in common; that moment when you cross the finish line, must be under a particular number on that clock, or it is back to the drawing board.
The higher up you go, the more you are restricted by time.
When I was in college, my primary goal at the beginning of each season would be to hit the automatic national qualifying time as early as possible. I did not have to worry about it for the rest of the year; I had booked my ticket to nationals.
It was hard to shake that focus on time when I left college, especially as so many of the next level rewards I worked for were determined by time.
My Saucony sponsorship, complementary entry to races, sampling products.
All required fast enough PRs to be considered worthy of reward.
Thankfully, my times were fast enough, but I started to become obsessed with time goals.
Expecting more and more out of my body, giving it less and less credit as I continued to run faster and faster….until seconds off a PR were not enough, I wanted minutes!
Even though I forced myself not to look during, I would feel irritated after my easy runs if my average pace was 7:50 instead of the 7:30 I deemed acceptable.
Long runs were even worse, I would watch my Garmin, obsess over the average pace creeping down.
I definitely became carried away with those; no one at my level should be running 6:12 average for 20 miles, 5 weeks before their marathon.
All I could think about, talk about, obsess about, was running that sub 2:40 marathon. It didn’t even cross my mind that I wouldn’t do it. In my mind I already had done it.
Steve continued to plead with me not to obsess over a time, which I replied with “yeah, I know”, but realistically it went in one ear, and out the other.
How dare he say I might not hit a time?
After all, in college, whenever I set a time goal, I reached it.
Every. Single. Time.
However, my debut marathon did not play out how I expected, and I did not reach that time goal.
Not even close.
I brushed it off as fueling mistake, and for the most part, it was, but I began training for Chicago still having that 2:3? overtaking my mind.
Many disagreements later, during my meltdown run, Steve finally got me to listen, and understand that with a marathon you cannot set a time goal.
Slowly, during this marathon segment, I have realized that with marathon training there really are no guarantees.
All you can do is perform the best you can on that day, with what your body gives you.
There are too many factors that can go wrong from day to day that can affect any run, workout, or race. Which is why I now recommend runners use the effort scale for racing, to just focus on doing the best you can.
Any combination of these factors could easily affect the time it takes to complete any one run:
- Yesterday’s run
- The day before yesterdays run
- Last weeks mileage
- Your accumulated sleep this week
- What you ate the night before
- What you ate the morning of
- Your emotions
- The wind
- How long you were sitting before you ran
- Many, many more
For that reason, as you struggle your way through the grind of marathon training, you should stop thinking, or obsessing about what you HAVE to do.
We should NOT set time goals for race day.
You need to let go of a specific time that you feel justifies what you “deserve” and just run.
In running there is no guarantee. You could be the fittest you have ever been in your life, and it could all go wrong. Bad weather could mean it is literally impossible for you to run that time you want to run.
You will get what you deserve, but just not when you command it to.
Put one foot in front of the other, and run.
As long as you cross that finish line feeling as though you gave it your all, that’s all you can ask for.
The result will take care of itself, and your body will do its absolute best with the circumstances on the day.
My thinking for this has been rewarded as I have felt a sense of calm in my running, and I ended up smashing that 2:40 I was trying to beat, and running a 2:36 in the California International Marathon…once I let go of that time goal.
Most people run their best when they are not concerned with a particular pace, but are just running, just doing what their best judgement/gut feelings tell them to do.
I am asking you to take the pledge with me, and see how much better you do when you take the pressure off, and just run.
That is the beauty of our sport; its simplicity, lets keep it that way.