In 11 days I will run my 7th marathon – the Air Force Marathon – in Dayton, Ohio. Every time this part of training rolls around I get to thinking about my goals for the race. I am a huge goal setter when it comes to running and life in general. Goals help keep me motivated and focused. However, I’m struggling with setting my goals this time. In a way, I want to put the pressure on myself and have high expectations because I know I have trained hard and can accomplish great things. However, I also don’t want to set myself up for failure by expecting too much and shooting too high, especially when I know firsthand all the crazy unexpected things that can happen on race day. It’s a tough balance!
Here’s why I feel this way – I went into the Country Music Marathon last April feeling strong and ready to race. I really wanted to break 4 hours (my current PR is 4:07). Everything that happened during training convinced me that I could do this, including a half marathon that I ran in March in 1:48:55. However, on race day everything went wrong. It was too hot and very hilly, and that combination left me dehydrated and weak early in the race. I also had stomach issues even though I had done everything right nutritionally. I became nauseous and couldn’t control my heart rate or breathing. I panicked and made Kevin go ahead without me. I crossed the finish line in 4:41:24, my slowest time to date, crying my eyes out.
Even though I was proud of myself for finishing such a tough race, I was still very disappointed that I didn’t make my goal. I know it’s always a huge accomplishment to finish a marathon, but I went into that race thinking I could do it and it just wasn’t my day. After reflecting on this for a while and feeling sorry for myself, I realized that by only setting one goal I had made a big mistake. I felt like a failure because I set myself up to fail, by only having one huge goal in mind. It was an “all or nothing” goal that didn’t take into account other factors that could affect my running peformance. Either I would run the marathon in under 4 hours or I wouldn’t. Period. End of story. And I would only be happy if I accomplished my goal.
The more I thought about this the more I realized how silly this was. I had just ran a marathon for pete’s sake!! Actually, my SIXTH marathon! Not everyone is able to do that. I decided that this time around I would set realistic goals, and I would set three of them [gold, silver, and bronze] instead of only one. My Gold goal is my best case scenario goal that I would be over-the-moon ecstatic about if it happened. My Silver goal is one that would make me very happy. My Bronze goal is one that would make me feel satisfied and proud. So here are the goals I came up with after a LOT of thinking:
- Gold: Run a sub-four hour marathon (9:09 average pace).
- Silver: Beat my current PR of 4:07:43 (9:27 average pace).
- Bronze: Beat my time from the NYC Marathon last fall – 4:12:08 (9:37 average pace).
Unless something horrible happens on race day (knocking on wood as I type this!), I really believe that all three of these goals are realistic and possible for me and that I can at least run a 4:12. I was able to do that last year in New York on a very challenging course and Ohio is much flatter. Plus I am in better shape this year. Obviously, all three of those goals are related to time, but time is not the only thing I am thinking about. A few of my other goals for this race are to:
- Fuel and hydrate properly during the race the way I have practiced on my long runs (energy chews starting at 50 minutes and every 25 minutes after that; water every mile, then alternate gatorade and water after mile 13).
- Stay positive! It’s easy for me to let negative thoughts creep into my mind during a tough race and hard for me to shake them off.
- Run even mile splits – this is so hard for me. I always go too fast in the beginning and then crash around mile 17/18. You think by now I would have learned my lesson! I want to keep my pace consistent from mile 1 to mile 26.2.
- Focus on my mantra word- CONTROL. Control my pace, control my thoughts, control my breathing, and just remember that I am in control of my own race and the way I handle the difficult parts! (More about mantras in an upcoming post).
- Run and finish with Kevin by my side. I wanted this so badly last time and it didn’t happen.
Over the next 11 days I plan to focus on my non-time goals and visualize myself accomplishing them during the race. I think that if I focus on my non-time goals and stay committed to them, I will be able to meet one of my time goals and feel confident that I did all I could on that day in those circumstances. I am hoping that having more than one goal will help take the pressure off a little bit and give me a little room to breathe, because too much is not good for my mental state on race day.
How do you set your goals? Do you believe in only setting one to reach for, or setting a few that you would be happy achieving instead?