A few days ago, my daughter had an interview for her dream job. Afterward she was relieved, excited and nervous. When I asked her how she felt about her chances of success, she said, “In my heart, I think it is probable that I’ll get the job. But my head keeps reminding me it is only possible; I’m trying to keep my expectations in check, so the disappointment won’t be so tough.”
Wise Woman, that one.
I ran the Santa Monica Classic 10K in early September. It was my first race since a spring half marathon, where my time was disappointing after recovering from the flu. I knew I could do better with a healthy training cycle and so got serious over the summer. Being a coach myself, I spend a lot of time on my plans, focusing on speed work, hills and long runs. For this first fall race, I wanted to average an 8:40 pace which is not an aggressive plan, but would give me a good gauge for my half and full marathon training to follow.
But beware the obsessive/competitive thinking of a runner with too much time between races!
One of my “things” is checking out the finish times in my age group from the past two years. I tell myself it is just research, right? I mean, if there are a bunch of fast finishers, it must be a fast course. If the top 5 finish times are unimpressive, then surely those 5 runners must be slow. Sure, this all makes sense to me when I want it to.
When I looked at the 2016 and 2017 age group times, I thought, heck yeah, I can finish in the top 5 with my goal time! I mean, it looks like a somewhat average pace for the top 5 women each year.
A week before the race, I announced to anyone in the house who would listen, “I predict I will finish in the top 5 of my age group Sunday!” I heard an “Okay, sounds good” and a “That’s great!”
Two days before the race, I heard that Sunday was going to be a scorcher, with temps in the high eighties and bright sun. That same day I got my final instructions from the race organizers with the words “steady incline from mile 1 to mile 4”. In Santa Monica? It never occurred to me that there would even be a reason to check the elevation… hot AND a climb?
I announced to anyone in the house who would listen, “I am sure I will finish in the top 7 of my age group!” The irritatingly logical thinker in the house replied, “You know, the heat will affect everyone the same, not just you.” This logical thinker does not run, by the way.
Sunday dawned grey and foggy. It was even more soggy than foggy, and so I silently moved my future self back into the top 5! I did not announce this to the house.
The race was a disorganized mess. The 5K started 20 minutes late, the wave start of the 10K ended up as one mad dash with walkers thwarting my every attempt to break free. Honestly, once I crossed the start line, I only thought about my pace, what I’d trained for and keeping a good stride rate. I was being a good coach to myself.
Mile one was flat and humid, but I stuck to my plan of moderate increases and when the dreaded incline began, I was grateful for all those Wednesday hill repeats. I was overjoyed with arms raised as we turned at mile 4 to run the last 2 miles downhill with a breeze in our faces and nothing but the pier in our sights. I poured it on the last few hundred meters and finished 1 minute over my goal time. I then allowed myself to think, “still within that (purely imagined) top 5”!
With no internet service on the Santa Monica pier, I called my Wise Woman child at home and asked her to check the results. She announced I had finished 4th.
Wait. Fourth? Really? But, I ran a good race. Fourth is painful. Fourth is only one place away from a medal. The disappointment stuck with me all the way home.
Why? I had been hoping for a top 5 finish to prove to myself I had trained well and could use that as motivation to push harder next time. So, where did this disappointment come from? Fourth out of 84 women in my age group, 210 out of 1300 women… this is nothing to be disappointed in! This is the stuff of celebration!
Could it be that the top 5 was cautious optimism after a mediocre spring? Was it my way of preparing for disappointment as I age? Was it a way to make excuses? I had put in the miles and the hours. I saw results as the summer passed. I knew I would run well and healthy.
Then, I realized this top 5 was my way of not believing in top 3, because somewhere deep inside, I saw top 5 as probable but top 3 as only possible.
But probable is where I want top 3 to be for me! Training hard enough should make my goal probable, not just possible!
Possible doesn’t need 5 AM alarms and endless squat jumps and a handwritten log of how you felt and where you went and how many strides. Possible isn’t a good enough adverb for the 7:45 tempo pace I was achieving at SMC or the 16 miles I ran last Friday with a fast finish.
Probable does need all of that and probable will make appearances; maybe not all the time, but often enough to keep double-tying my shoes.
Let’s work on probable and save possible for the weather reports. Because after the race organizers got it all straightened out, I was notified that I finished in the TOP TWO and second place is WAY better than top 5! And I’ll probably be happy with that!
About our columnist:
Bette Hagerty decided to run a 5K in 1992 after a few months of running around her neighborhood, using her car’s odometer to measure distances. When she found herself among a few hundred people talking about running, she knew she had found her community. Since then she has run several hundred races, from 5K to marathon distance and helped form two running groups.
Bette is an RRCA Certified Running Coach and posts weekly Tuesday workouts on instagram as @BetteRunning. Her passions for running and writing have finally run into each other, and she looks forward to sharing her experiences and knowledge. She welcomes your glowing compliments at [email protected].
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