Athlete Journal: Julie Warren, Entry 9 – Expectation Management

I ran a 10 mile race last weekend. The results were not what I hoped, but what disappointed me most was how I handled the race mentally. Now I’m trying to focus on positive thinking.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Along with Andrew Read and Narisa Wild, Julie Warren will be sharing her training experiences for upcoming endurance challenges. Follow Julie as she prepares for her next adventure – the Great Wall of China Marathon! Julie’s journals will be posted on Saturdays.

Athlete Journal: Julie Warren, Entry 9 – Expectation Management

Sometimes, despite your best efforts, things aren’t going to pan out like you think they should. This is not profoundly earth-shattering information. In fact, I’m sure we all know this from basic life experiences. For some reason though, it’s hard to take that life lesson and apply it to training outcomes. Chances are, if you’re reading this article, you tend to set ridiculously high standards for yourself. You’re an athlete, it’s just part of who you are. And as athletes, we tailor our schedules weekly, adjust speed or weight accordingly, and proceed. We are dedicated, methodical, and passionate. We know that as long as we put in the hard work ahead of time, we can expect positive outcomes on the other side, right? Not always.That’s right. And knowing how to mentally pick yourself up off the ground is not something that gets doled out with your weekly training plan.

This past weekend, I participated in the 3rd of a 4 race winter racing series. This was a 10 mile race and I had planned to use it as a personal time trial. I was interested to see how fast I could knock out a relatively flat 10 miles. I was fairly confident I could break 80 minutes (average pace of <8min/mi). The course was an out and back, with a gradual uphill on the way out and therefore a friendly downhill on the return.

Unfortunately on race day, it was rather chilly (windchill of 20 degrees) with a 17mph headwind on the outbound portion. It didn’t help that I just couldn’t get my legs to warm up prior to the race start. When the gun went off, despite a solid 30 minute warmup, my legs felt dead and heavy. I tried to force a quick pace and get the blood flowing, no luck. I reached the 1 mile mark at 7 minutes, but felt like I’d been running a much harder effort. The wind was demoralizing, and as miles 2, 3, and 4 ticked by, I kept waiting for my legs to finally wake up. No luck.

Finally, at the approach to the 5 mile turn around, I walked through the aid station to take in water and a gel. A quick glance at my watch confirmed my fears. 44 minutes to run 5 miles? Have I even been training? Unacceptable. My legs felt like I had already run 10 miles. How could this be? Then I turned the corner to begin my 5 mile run to the finish. With the wind at my back, a quick shot of mocha-flavored energy, and a personal vendetta against my watch, I was off like a bullet. I started to quickly realize how much I had let the wind affect my attitude. Now that conditions were more ideal, I was averaging an 8min/mi. This was closer to acceptable. My legs were still pretty lethargic though, and never really felt like they were working at full capacity, even as I crossed the finish line. Thankfully my second 5 miles was exactly 40 min, so my time for the overall race was 84 minutes. It was a decent time, but not a great time. I ended up with 6th in my age group, which is fine. But I wasn’t ever there to beat anything other than my own personal goal, andnd I had fallen well short of it. To say I was frustrated would be an understatement.

It took me a few days to really understand how to move forward from this past weekend’s race. I do realize that there were some things, such as weather, that were completely out of my control. I could have made some adjustments, such as altering my personal time goal to accommodate headwinds, but I didn’t. Instead, I held myself to a somewhat unrealistic standard, and then became frustrated when I failed to meet it. It really all came down to my attitude. I perceived everything in that race as a negative. I could have seen the 7 minute first mile as a great start, but I chose to compare it to previous races and therefore it wasn’t good enough. I could have looked at my 5 mile time of 44 minutes as a decent time given the conditions, but I only saw it as being almost 1min/mi off my goal pace. I could have enjoyed the final 5 miles back to the finish and taken in the surroundings and relished the fact that I’m able to be out running and enjoying life. Instead, I was a frustrated and somewhat angry runner just hoping to make up lost time on the second half of the race. Looking back on it, I’m really not very proud of how I mentally handled the race at all.

So this week, I’ve been trying really hard to focus on positives. I know this past weekend was not my best 10 mile race, but I know I did the best I could given the circumstances. More importantly, it’s okay that I didn’t have a super awesome race. Not every race, workout, or training session is going to be epic. Some of them are just going to be more frustrating than others. The frustration really just stems from the expectations I’ve placed on myself. While it’s good to hold yourself to a high standard, it’s equally as good to allow yourself some grace when you don’t quite hit all the marks. I know I’m going to get stronger, faster and mentally tougher as a result of my training. Accepting that it won’t all happen overnight is the key.