During my recent marathon training cycle I was twice inspired by the Training Talk section of the Marathon Talk podcast to write a post (you can read those here and here) and it’s happened again. I had begun a draft of a post about not reaching my goal in the marathon and how I was able to accept that by reframing the experience, however since this became a topic of discussion in the first episode I listened to after the marathon, I thought I would use the points raised as the basis for my own post…
Three Simple Ways To Feel Good About Your Race When It Didn’t Quite Go To Plan:
- Remember that it’s only you who really cares
This was something I really learned throughout this process. Back in the autumn I kept a goal race a secret, for a variety of reasons. It was a kind of experiment to see what difference, if any, there was if I wasn’t talking and writing about my training all the time. Would I perform any better free from that pressure? In the end, it was a moot point as a hip issue led to me missing the race, but for my last training cycle I was very public about my goal of running sub-4 hours. That, of course, meant that if I didn’t meet my goal, everyone would know. And do you know what? It didn’t matter in the slightest. When I posted across social media that I’d had a tough race and missed my goal time, I got nothing but positivity back. The non-runners were simply impressed that I had completed a marathon; the runners understood not only how difficult that is, but how the hot conditions changed things. Nobody cared about my time, other than to ask if I had a good time.
And the discussion on Marathon Talk was very similar. It was pointed out that sport can be tough in the moment, but in the end it’s just sport. How you perform doesn’t define you as a person. While we may think others might care about our time and judge us for it, in reality they care that we’re happy and a nice person, not how long it took us to run an arbitrary distance. All those people congratulating me on finishing a marathon proved that to be true, and my initial disappointment at not yet reaching my goal was soon replaced by pride that I had finished the race.
- Stop thinking about your outcome and identify the good things from the process
In other words, what worked in your life with this race and why? Ok, so it took me half an hour longer than I wanted to complete the marathon, but there are still a lot of positives to take away: I entered a race during the school holidays so I could enjoy a slightly extended trip; I got to spend a weekend in my favourite city in the world, taking part in my favourite activity; I got to run the always amazing Breakfast Run the day before; I got to meet up with people I hadn’t seen since last year’s event; I got to soak up the atmosphere on race day and form unspoken connections with those around me, regardless of nationality; and I got to wear my medal with pride whilst celebrating with new found friends. What’s not to like about that?
All of these things worked to give me a fantastic weekend away. The numbers on the clock are but a small part of that and the race was the culmination of many weeks and months of successful training. Training which I enjoyed and through which I could see the changes in my strength and speed. Those will still be there to capitalise on as I resume training.
- What did you do that actually surprised you?
By thinking about the race differently and what was surprising in the build up, we can soon see things differently to the finish time. For me, this race really was a celebration of my training as I actually completed that training buildup successfully. As someone who is prone to injury, that’s something that surprised me. Another surprise was my performance at the Inverness Half Marathon. I knew I was in PB shape and estimated that if I ran at marathon pace I could complete the race in around 1:55, but on the day ran faster to achieve 1:53. Definitely a very pleasant surprise.
The key thing to take away from all this is that not reaching a goal isn’t a disaster. There are only so many things we can control and many more that we can’t. There’s a fine balance in endurance sport between caring enough about something to try hard, and caring so much that we take it too far. That can be potentially destructive. There will always be lots of “what ifs”, and often there is a perfectly simple answer:
What if I don’t make my goal time?
I’ll pick myself up, dust myself off and enter another race to try again.
Finish times are not the only way to judge the success of a race. One of my most successful was the same race last year when I was just so pleased to be able to take part after an injury that the whole race felt like a giant party. Being able to run and do so consistently was my success. This year, my success was having the courage to recognise that my goal was out of reach that day and reframe my marathon as a long training run for my next one. For there will be a next one, and maybe next time that sub-4 will be mine…