It was Thanksgiving, 2012 and I was in Abilene, Texas running my first ever 5K road race.
I’d run a number of trail races already back home in California but this was a big deal for me – I was running with my son and daughter-in-law – a big deal indeed.
Now, I’m not a particularly fast runner but I have won a number of AG (Age Group) medals and I figured I could do so again.
After all – no hills, no rough terrain, no jockeying for position on single-track AND I was being spurred on by son’s declaration…no, proclamation…that he would beat me that day.
OK, he’s younger, stronger, a former 82nd Airborne paratrooper, etc., etc., but I was a dedicated runner while he ran only sporadically. My daughter-in-law was keeping quiet but I knew she would probably smoke us both.
Somewhere past mid-race I realized my pace was off just far enough that I’d be unable to make the time I had hoped for and definitely, no medal.
A curious thing happened as I saw these goals fade away…my legs became heavier, my breathing more labored, my muscles colder.
I had let disappointment take away my pleasure and my spirit. I bore down and simply ground out whatever I had left to get to the finish line. Along the way I passed my daughter-in-law who had been ahead of me, running leisurely, for the whole race. She yelled “Go for it” and said she’d see me shortly. My son had already finished about 90 seconds before me and my daughter finished about 90 seconds after me.
I took my son’s mild ribbing in stride, noted that I had actually run my fastest 5K ever, and then settled into a post-race post-mortem, otherwise known as “I coulda-shoulda-woulda analysis”.
Since this isn’t a running blog I’ll leave out the details of how I most likely could have run a better race.
I want to use this experience though as a way to talk about goals, specifically the importance of recognizing how we can help or hinder our chances of success when things don’t go quite as we had hoped.
Let’s face it, despite having crafted goals that are reasonable without being minor, audacious without being unreachable, we sometimes simply do not hit the mark.
It’s actually in that seeming failure that we can find what we need to succeed!
First, there’s the all-important story – I’m talking about the narrative we create in which we have the choice of portraying our self as hero or goat. I hit a PR (Personal Record) in that race yet I focused on how I had missed my medal and missed my goal pace. I set myself up for anxiety and doubt in my next race which made that race all the harder. Choosing a growth perspective in which I acknowledge my obstacles as well as my strengths allows me to learn and progress, not bemoan and stagnate.
Second, in any missed goal there is a wealth of information if you’ll look for it. I had a method I would use to prep for a race and following it allows me to run the best I can. Did I follow that method on that Turkey Day? Nope. Did I establish that this prep can make a significant difference? Yup! Have I built it into every race prep since? Oh yeah!
Third, if you’ve allowed yourself to feel the highs and the lows of the experience, what happens next is what sustains us as we work towards our goals – we solidify our approach. You’ve heard the expression “trial and error”, this would be “trial and correction”. Each time we adjust, correct our course we increase our capacity for success.
We establish a mindset that sees challenges, not problems.
We become good at we thought we could not attain; we become better where we thought we were good; we become expert in finding satisfaction in our efforts.