The Mental Game: Giving Goals the Kiss-Off

Running If you've been following this blog, you know I've been doing a fair amount of trail run races over the past few years. I love them because they give me a training goal and they keep me disciplined throughout the year to balance work with getting out in the woods to do something I love. It not only helps me maintain sanity, but is also awesome for creative problem solving when it comes to work.

Having that training goal means I can't easily blow off a run on any given day because I need to get in my speed work, my long run, my tempo run. I also have to get my two days of strength training to keep it all working.

It forces me to be efficient at work because there are times I have to get out there for a couple hours and do my training which shortens my work day. As you can see, it's winning all around. Most of the time.

Goals are a good thing. Right? You're reading this, I gather you are a goal-oriented person.

This summer I've learned goals can also suck: Suck the life out of you; and suck the mental game down the drain.

I was meeting friends early for our Saturday morning long run. We had 15 miles slated, on a trail about 90 minutes from town. I woke up feeling terrible. It could be the full bottle of wine I consumed the night before alongside the steak frites but what do I know? I'm not a doctor. I thought to myself: " Just get going. Drink your coffee and water on the drive out, and start the first few miles and you'll be fine..." That works about 90 percent of the time. This particular morning was one of the 10 percent. It never kicked in for me.

We headed out and I soon told my friends to go ahead and don't wait for me; I'd be taking it slow. We'll do the out and back and I'll see them on the return. There I was, alone in the woods, when my mental game kicked in, telling me how much I suck. A hiking group coming the other way said to me, "your friends said not to give up. keep going." and I nodded saying I wasn't. "Are they far ahead?" "Yeah.... they are a ways up there... "

I got to five miles, and decided I couldn't go any further. I better turn around. I was bummed - I had 2 1/2 more miles to go before turning around. I felt light-headed, and a little delirious. It was raining, I was soaked and very cold. My spirits were low as I imagined the rest of the group up ahead running fast, having fun, heads thrown back in sheer joy and laughter.

On my way back, I stopped to take in the view (the rain thankfully had stopped) - and my first friend came up from behind (remember, he had done the out and back but had gone farther). He said, "thank GOD it stopped raining, I was really really getting cold." He was alone. my other friends spread out behind him. Which is when I realized something.

The guys up front aren't having more fun than I am.

They are going through the same stuff - the same obstacles, experiencing the same cold. They are working hard, and having good days and bad days just like I do. I also realized, as sick as I felt, I was doing TEN MILES of trail running with some significant elevation gain. That's no slouchy day. It's just that I was so focused on the five I didn't accomplish, I didn't recognize the ten I got in.

Circumstances change our ability to reach goals. Goals are moving targets; that's just how it works. When goals are missed, it makes us dig in to figure out why and to remedy it. (not to beat yourself up for how much you suck) They should serve to motivate, rather than de-motivate.

Let this serve as a reminder to celebrate the 10 miles accomplished, recognize that we were five short, and get ready to make up for it in some way. Let's not compare ourselves to the ones we think our out front having a blast and not feeling the same cold, the same climb, and the same effort we are. If we let goals deflate us just because we missed them, we are missing the point altogether.