What are your goals for the next race?
Achieving a goal can be wonderful and rewarding. But, it only lasts a moment. Three months after a race, 'finishing' will not contribute to your level of happiness in any way. You can list it on your resume/CV or hang the medal on your wall, but those are merely notations and symbols of a moment in the past. A goal is a marker at the end of a journey. It signifies having experienced the journey, but it's the journey we need to focus on.
How do you define failure? Does it have anything to do with your goals?
I define failure as a missed learning opportunity. It has nothing to do with where I placed in a race or my finishing time. I may stand on the podium after a race but will have failed if I didn't learn something from the journey.
Your primary goal should be to finish…really?
If the goals you set include 'things' such as a podium placing, prize money, being in the top 20, or finishing, then maybe you’re focus is misplaced.
"Blasphemy! Did he just say that the time-honored primary goal of finishing is the wrong approach?"
When you focus on finishing, your attention is on ending what you're doing...getting it done, over, completed, finished. You then imagine that you'll look back on the totality of the race, say “I accomplished that", and it will make you happy. You're putting your happiness at the end, as an expected outcome of achieving a goal. See how that plays out? Struggle...attain goal...become happy. It doesn’t work that way because it’s the experience, not the achievement as such, that brings lasting fulfillment and growth.
Why do you go on a training run? Is it to finish your run?
I go on training runs to perform a series of work efforts; there just happens to be a beginning and and end to the run. Races should be viewed in the same way.
I've had one DNF (did not finish). I stopped around mile 44 of a 62-mile race (100k) because I went off course and my goal of finishing in a certain time was unattainable. I wasn't upset or demoralized, and my body was in good shape; I could have continued and still finished in a very good time. But, I had only set one goal, and it became unattainable; I was done for the day. I don't regret that decision. What I regret is my approach to the race. I should have been focused on the experience and the work planned throughout the event, not my time (a 'thing').
That DNF was my greatest success, not failure, because I captured a learning opportunity that shapes everything I do in running and in life. When I take on a challenge now, big or small, I ask myself two questions.
- Am I in it for the full experience and not the endpoint?
- How will this bring me joy?
Once I know that I am in it for the experience as a whole, and for the sum of its parts, then running the last mile is just as important as running the first mile. The race doesn’t have a start and end with that mindset. Regardless of what goes on internally (e.g., mental doldrums) or externally (e.g., bad weather or going off course), the desire to experience the complete event will always keep me going. By coming back to appreciating why I’m in it, I can always find joy in the moment and a reason to continue the experience.
Running brings me joy.
It's a joy that's intrinsic to moving my body; I am joyous even running on the treadmill. I just love the feeling that running gives my body and mind. As a runner, I want to be faster and stronger. But, my motivation is always focused on doing my best and becoming better as quickly and efficiently as I can. I don’t attach numbers to those motivations; they are about the growth process, not the outcome. You may have heard of ‘process goals’ vs ‘outcome goals’. I don’t care for that thinking and find it an overreaching and academic attempt at being clever. Just let go of goals and be in the moment, in the process.
Should you stop setting goals?
No. Goals are good. They are important for building frameworks of action and for establishing the relevance of the details within your process. But, try to view goals as the things that materialize along your journey rather than what you are there to accomplish. They are achieved or not depending on how well the process is going and should never be taken personally. Reaching or not reaching goals is just feedback you can use to develop a deeper understanding of the process. They should never define your experience. Be prepared to adjust your goals during the race rather than giving up or being demoralized if you see a goal slipping away. And always come back to the true answer to why you are running when times get tough.
Is your motivation to finish your next/first ultra or is it to experience the event while you give it your best effort all along the course? Happiness comes while we are struggling to be our best. Focus on the experience, and you might be a little sad to finish.