I mentioned recently that in the weeks leading up to my goal half marathon, I wanted to stop racing for time and to instead pursue other challenges. I wasn’t just feeling tired from the training and stressed about my upcoming race. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking in the past few months about why I run and what I get from it and have realized that chasing PRs and new time goals is just not my thing. I’ve seen how much I’ve improved in just a few years of dedicated running, and I know that if I keep at it, I can keep improving. I read somewhere that it takes something like seven years of running before you peak, and I’ve only been running seriously for two years. But the thought of continually training just to hit lower and lower times fills me with dread. It just doesn’t sound fun and certainly isn’t why I love running. I run to be outside exploring the world in all its seasons, and because running makes me feel alive and happy.
Setting a time goal changes running for me. It introduces a lot of stress and anxiety and sets me up for hinging my entire emotional state over the number on the clock when I cross the finish line. With a time goal, you either hit it or you don’t. It makes a race a test, where I feel a lot of pressure to pass so that I don’t feel like a failure. It’s not even a fair test, since factors other than how well I trained–the weather, how well I run the tangents, whether I’m having a good day, etc.–affect my time. Stress, anxiety, pressure…no, that’s not why I run. If I’m not a professional runner, am not trying to win age
group awards, and I’m not qualifying for a race, my time only matters
to me, and I guess it just doesn’t matter much to me.
Taking away my time goal for the Buffalo Creek Half Marathon was the best decision I made. I focused instead on having a good race, implementing my plan, and finishing strong in the end. I felt it was the best race I ever had. My biggest success was that I was able to control how I ran to ensure a great race and a strong finish. That I got a good time and PR was secondary. I did have a goal to run in a certain pace range. I know that’s six of one, a half-dozen of another, but thinking of hitting a pace range instead of a time is a mental shift that works really well for me. So, in future races, I will not be setting time goals. Instead, I’ll be setting other goals, like having a strong race or completing a new distance or trying to run in a pace range. If I beat a previous time in the process, great, but it won’t be my focus.
This is not to say that I’m just calling it quits and won’t try to improve. I feel like I’m at the beginning of my running journey and definitely want to keep improving and tackling new challenges. I realize that time is a measure of improvement, and I do want to measure how well I’m improving. I plan to do that by looking at my pace. Like I said, running within a 10-second pace race in my last race gave me the flexibility to run a little faster or slower each mile, which worked really well for me. I plan to use that strategy for future races and will also try to keep increasing my pace with each training segment. I’ll continue to use the Hansons’ plans, which are based on a time goal and have runs at certain paces, but the difference for me is that my primary goal will be pace and not time. Yes, pace and time are tied up together, but focusing on pace instead of time is just a better mental strategy for me.
I know that setting a big time goal can be motivating, so will I try as hard without a time goal? Fortunately, I have no problems with motivation, at least when it comes to running and fitness. I like training much more than racing, and I have no problem giving my all to a training plan, regardless of my ultimate goal or even if I race.
I also know that I’m a bit of an oddball in my thinking. While the non-running world could care less about time (if you have ever tried to talk to your non-running friends about the time you ran a race, you know the bored or blank stares you get in response), runners passionately care about time. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing at all. I get very excited when I read about someone’s big goals or their recent PRs. I’m just saying time goals aren’t for me.
What do you think of time goals? Necessary as motivation? Or just adds stress to the race?