With the Publix Savannah Women’s Half Marathon and 5K recently in the books for many of you, and the Boston Marathon right around the corner for others, I thought it important to talk about expectations (and how to handle them), because for many of us, when we spend as much time as we have training for a particular event, if everything doesn’t go exactly to plan, it can end up being a real let-down. Sometimes even a debilitating one. And it doesn’t have to.
I’ll admit to finding myself disappointed lately; my distance, my speed, and my attitude have all suffered in equal parts the last few months. Which means that what I once thought might be my penultimate marathoning achievement is now just an opportune excuse for a vacation. For many of us, if a race result doesn’t meet our expectations, we kick, we spit, and we fume (or perhaps we simply silently seethe) about that poor showing, which doesn’t leave much time to take in and process the positives from the event; we can’t see the forest for the trees. Long ago, I realized (and admit to conveniently forgeting from time to time) that although I might get just as upset at my 6:30 pace as you do your 8:00, or Joe Schmo does his 11:00, I should still go into—and exit—a race with my head held high, because when we fail to do so, we lose sight of the fact that there are tons of other folks out there that would love to run an 11:00 mile…or 8:00, or even 6:30. It’s all about perspective when it comes to expectations, and although I may not feel prepared to run Boston next week (which I’ll admit I don’t), I’ll still give it my best effort, because even though I’m disappointed by the fact that I didn’t prepare nearly as well as I could/should have (it’s the old “what could have been” thought process), I also recognize that I should celebrate the opportunity (and my achievement) all the same. Things don’t always go according to plan; in fact, they very rarely do. But that doesn’t mean they are any less valuable or important.
In fact, some of my greatest race memories come from occasions in which I didn’t expect the very best from myself—the times I toed the line and thought to myself “I’ll give my best effort today, but because I’m not entirely sure what that’s going to look like, I’m just going to start off comfortably and have fun with it.” Because why on earth sign up for a race just to be miserable?—sometimes, we lose sight of that fact; the fact that, at least at some point, we were actually looking forward to this run.
I’m not advocating for lowering/tempering expectations, as this oftentimes causes us to resign ourselves to mediocrity, in terms of effort given and bettered times/experiences (which can then cause us to lose interest). But I am saying that, if we give of ourselves all we can on any given day, and decide to have fun no matter the outcome, each and every time we race has the potential to be our very best result; not because we expect less of ourselves, but because we have finally lived in the moment and celebrated our achievement for what it is: an achievement. It’s true that the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry. But they don’t have to.