Tis the season for marathons. Lots of them. And half marathons, and 10Ks and 5Ks and everything in between. Fall is one of the most popular times of the year to run, because the temperatures are cool and the air is crisp and it’s the culmination of all the summer training you’ve done.
I’m seeing so many women posting on Facebook about crossing the finish line of their first long-distance race, and it makes my heart sing to see everyone reaching their goals!
But a few of you have reached out to me, surprised and a little confused to find yourself feeling sad in the days after your big race, even lacking the sense of accomplishment you expected to feel after such a major event.
What’s going on?
It’s completely normal to feel this way after anything that you’ve been planning and looking forward to for months. It’s actually a lot like getting married. There’s a lot of preparation, a few tears along the way (and on the day), an enormous amount of anticipation and then…the whole thing flies by so fast you can’t believe it. The next day, it’s all over. Back to reality, and without that big, beautiful goal ahead of you to dream about, sometimes it feels like there’s a big hole in your life left to fill.
This is what happens when the goal becomes the only important thing, instead of enjoying the process along the way. Especially if the goal involves a certain level of performance.
This week I started reading The Practicing Mind by Thomas Sterner. It’s an incredible book about mastering skills and challenges by learning to love the process instead of becoming attached to the outcome. The book addresses this very phenomenon:
“We have a very unhealthy habit of making the product – our intended result – the goal, instead of the process of reaching that goal. This is evident in many activities in our everyday lives. We become fixated on our intended goal and completely miss out on the joy present in the process of achieving it.”
That’s the key. The full joy and pride in the accomplishment isn’t something you get to feel only on the day of the race – it’s in the practice of consistently training and improving in the months leading up to it. That’s not to say that the day of the race isn’t amazing and wonderful and a great memory that you’ll hold forever. But you wouldn’t have gotten to that point without months of practice, so discounting all of your training runs as not being part of the goal can lead to feeling let down after the goal is achieved, even frustrated if you didn’t live up to the standards you set for yourself on the day.
To me, the real accomplishment is every single day that you would have rather stayed on the couch than get out there and do your two hour training run – but you got out there and did it anyway. All the times you had what felt like a terrible run but you stuck with it to the end even though it was hard, and then found that the next run felt easy and light and fun. It’s every single time you worried that your arms looked too fat in that running tank, then told your Inner Mean Girl to pipe down, put that tank top on and had your best run ever. That is the accomplishment.
Race day is just a huge celebration of all the work you put in along the way. Your time doesn’t matter. Walking more than you planned to is irrelevant. Whether you came in last, next to last, or placed in your age group is not important.
The training is the true accomplishment, because you’ve learned that you can do hard things and survive. That you’re stronger than you thought. That maybe…just maybe…you might be a real runner after all.
So…if you’ve just finished your first long-distance event and you’re feeling sad now that it’s over, remember that you can tap into the pride and joy of that accomplishment any time you want to, just by putting on those running shoes and going for a run.