I thought I was goal-orientated. I’m ambitious, driven and determined. I create plans and lists for targets to hit and tick off. I’m a Type A personality (a very common thing in the fitness world).
But I was walking Alfie the other day and listening to the Marathon Talk podcast (episode 349) and Martin was interviewing an amazing guy called Joe Grant. Joe talked about the crazy challenges he had gone on, running and cycling hundreds of miles and going on fantastic adventures. What became apparent straight away was that he focused on the “journey” not the outcome, like his time or placings. It was all about the experiences he gained, the training he went through that got him to the point of doing all those incredible races.
It made me suddenly realise that that’s similar to how I think. OK I am in NO WAY comparing myself to this amazing ultra marathoning pro, but in terms of what he focuses on is exactly how I feel. I asked myself, why do I keep running marathons? Surprisingly it’s not to hit some elusive time goal or smash my PB. It’s the training weeks leading up, it’s hitting those long runs and feeling accomplished afterwards. Obviously not always as sometimes they suck and I feel pants, but you take the good with the bad. Next week’s run might be different. The fact is though that I don’t need a race to validate my running and fitness.
Of course I have time goals for marathons, because otherwise how would I know how to train or what pace to set off at? But if I don’t hit that goal it’s not a failure. The marathon, instead, is the goal – the victory lap. I’ve done the hard weeks of training, ticked off all those long runs and now I get to see if I can make it to the end.
When I got my PB at Liverpool of course I was over-the-moon but actually had I finished in a similar time to the marathons before or slower I’d have still been happy. That training cycle was awesome. Each week was showing me what I could do and the race was just the cherry on the top to say, “you did it, it worked! Well done!”. And no, it wasn’t because I was getting faster or hitting PBs. It was because most of the runs I felt strong and I was happy running.
It’s the same with parkrun. When I first started parkrunning I was keen to beat my time every Saturday I went and it drove me to injury after injury. I lost the love. But when I stopped caring about my time (to some extent of course, I still look at the results and enjoy seeing progress), parkrun suddenly became fun again. And instead of aiming for things like “sub-20 minutes” or “first female”, I now aim for how many different parkruns I can do over the UK. Where’s my next one going to be? Where can I visit next? What’s the course going to be like? Of course smashing out a fantastically fast time (for me) is fun once in a while, but if I don’t get a PB it’s not a waste or a failure. It’s just another experience on another day.
Like I said in a previous post, I’m reading the Brownlee brother’s books and it’s fascinating. I love hearing about how hard they train and how ambitious they are. Reading their book though does feel a little empty to me at times. The most interesting parts are when they talk about their training or race in depth and detail. Of course they can’t do this for every race because it would be a mammoth book, but even aside from this, what’s clear is that they are very goal-driven. A race to them is summed up by the outcome first and foremost: where did they place. OK obviously that is hugely important to them because they are professional elite athletes and their placing is what’s important at the end of the day, but I almost don’t care about where they came. I want to hear about the details and the experiences – the nitty gritty. Instead they sum up races very quickly with “the swim went well, the bike was hard and the run went fast and I came first”.
For me, when I write race recaps (different league and incomparable talent completely, of course) I go into flowery details about when I needed to pee, what gels I took and what that marshal said to me at mile five. My result is purely incidental. Yes it’s important, but it’s not why I set out to race. (Please forgive my stumbling comparison to the hugely talented Brownlee brothers, it’s a whole different thing I know but it just made me think how different elite athletes are to the average Jo(e)).
For Chester Marathon I just want to finish uninjured and with a smile on my face. The journey has been tough with its ups and downs in motivation and hot weather but I can look back fondly and think, if the marathon goes tits up then I don’t mind because that 21 miler was cool, running to Fareham parkrun was so much fun and the Reigate Half surprised me with how good it felt.
This is not a rambling post to try and sandbag my time or claim nonchalantly “I don’t care what time I finish”. Of course I care. In fact, I’ll lay it out for you bare:
- A Goal: sub 3:30 (this is really quite ambitious considering my training but hey ho, aim high! If I feel good on the day who knows what could happen…all the planets need to align though)
- B Goal: sub 3:35 (realistically this is within my grasp I think)
- C Goal: I’d like to beat Boston’s time (sub 3:38) or at the very least sub 3:45. I did my 21 miler at around 8:15-8:20 pace and this time goal is sitting just under that pace. But it will also depend on tangents and things like that.
But ultimately, I’m happy as long as I finish uninjured. If I don’t get any of the above goals and “just” finish the marathon, it’s another one ticked off my list and (after some actual time off – I promise, this time!) I’ll be on to the next one, happy as ever. This is why I’m happy to tell you my goals because if I don’t achieve them, I’m not embarrassed or see myself as a failure. It’s something I can dissect and improve upon next time. *Rubs hands in glee* all that data, all those training runs…It builds into the next training plan to polish it all up for the next marathon.
Are you goal or process driven?
Why do you race?
Do you often have targets you want to achieve? What are those targets: times, experiences, quantities of events?