Judging Your Running Goals by Something Other Than Time

I had a hard, set-in-stone goal for my second marathon: I was going to PR. There was honestly not a chance in my mind that I WOULDN’T PR. This time through training, I religiously did speed workouts, and I was a hundred times stronger than I was the first time around. My long runs felt easier, my recovery runs were faster, and everything just went smoothly. I was so confident that I even had secret running goals set in my mind, which may or may not have come to me in one of my running dreams (as you can see, I was pretty obsessed with running during this training cycle).

The Horse Capital Marathon, however, had other plans.

I had checked out the elevation map before the race, and I wasn’t too bothered by what I saw. Sure, there were ups and downs, but nothing drastic – the biggest elevation change that I saw was 80 feet over .7 of a mile. And for the first 13.1 miles of the race, the hills honestly did not bother me too badly; I finished the first half under pace for a PR.

But then we went through the loop again. And by mile 15, there was not a single person running up the hills- not even the pacers. You’d crest a hill and immediately see the next hill coming up. It was as much a mental battle as it was a physical one. And it absolutely wore me out.

Even without looking at my watch for the second half of the race, I knew a PR was now out of the question. The goal that I had previously thought I’d get, no question, was completely out of reach. I was going to have to go back to Chicago and have people ask me, “How’d it go? Did you get your PR?” and say “Nope, actually, not even close.” It made me pretty grumpy, to be honest. I felt like I was letting myself down, of course, but also like I was letting down everyone who had helped train me to reach this goal – my strength coach, my running crew, even my friends and family who had put up with my running talk non-stop for four months.

However, now that I’ve had a couple of days to reflect on one of the most trying runs I’ve ever had (did I mention that it rained on and off for the entire race? Because it did), I’ve realized that there are more ways to measure race success than just looking at a clock. Here’s a little bit of what I came up with:

  • Comparing your results to the field: As it turns out, I finished in the top five in my age group and in the top 20 females overall. The winning female finished in 3:17- don’t get me wrong, that’s a time I would kill for, but it’s also very reflective of the course’s difficulty.
  • Enjoying the course: As you might have guessed from above, the course and I weren’t exactly BFFs (within a couple of minutes of finishing, I told my sister’s best friend, who has signed up for Chicago 2015, “Don’t do this. It sucks. Get out while you can.”). However, the scenery along the course left nothing to be desired. We ran through 40 horse farms, and in some Kodak moments, actually ran alongside the horses as they frolicked in the rain. I can’t think of anything cooler, honestly.
  • Having the best pit crew: My roommates made the six hour drive from Chicago to watch me “win” the marathon, and they, along with my dad and my sister, woke up at 5:30am on a Saturday to drive me out to the course and stand with me before the start, in the rain. They also managed to drive out to the halfway point with another one of my friends and talk their way past a police officer in order to be able to watch me in an area where spectators couldn’t technically drive. Plus, my sister and one of my roommates actually ran with me for about a mile at mile 12 and then again at mile 25. Pair that with having another friend and a couple of family friends come out to the finish, armed with flowers and hugs, and I definitely think my support crew won the day. I love you guys.

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  • Finishing upright and with a beer in my hand: At mile 26, a somewhat rowdy group of college guys were tailgating and handing out beers to runners approaching the finish (American flag Budweisers, no less). I’ve never finished a race with a beer in my hand, and I never want to finish a race without a beer in my hand ever again. Way better than a medal.

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  • Checking my phone after the race and seeing all the messages from friends and fellow runners: It was incredibly validating to read the messages from my friends, runners and non-runners alike, and knowing that they were rooting for me regardless of their actual interest in running. Having the support of friends and family kind of made not reaching my goal irrelevant.
  • Crying and laughing my way through my playlist: Instead of making my own playlist like I did for Chicago, this time, I emailed my friends and family for suggestions of the songs I should run to. I ended up with eight hours of music, and luckily, I didn’t end up needing all of it. It was an instant morale-booster to have a song come on shuffle and immediately know who had suggested that song and the memory behind it- it made me laugh, and a few times, it stopped me from walking up a miserable hill. Special shoutout to Circle of Life, Faded, and Trap Queen for making me particularly happy. Full disclosure, I did tear up when “Let It Go” came on at mile 12 at the exact moment it started raining- I had a lot of feelings at that moment, for some reason.

I’ve said it throughout all of my marathon training posts: I’m a Type A person when it comes to running. Not hitting my goal (and not even getting close, honestly) felt like a punch in the stomach at times. But a successful race can’t be judged in black and white numbers, and the marathon is the most finicky, temperamental race of them all, so it requires a whole different set of judging standards. And hey, there’s always the next marathon, right?

Endurance Move

About Kristen Geil

A native of Lexington, Kentucky, Kristen moved to Chicago in 2011 and received her MA in Writing, Rhetoric, and Discourse from DePaul while trying to maintain her southern accent. Kristen grew up playing sports, and since moving to Chicago, she’s fallen in love with the lakefront running path and the lively group fitness scene. Now, as a currently retired marathoner and sweat junkie, you can usually find her trying new workouts around the city and meticulously crafting Instagram-friendly smoothie bowls. Kristen came on to A Sweat Life full-time in 2018 as Editor-in-Chief, and she spends her days managing writers, building content strategy, and fighting for the Oxford comma.

12 thoughts on “Judging Your Running Goals by Something Other Than Time

  1. Congrats!! I’m super impressed that you ran a marathon. I’m sure that counts for something. You’re welcome 🙂

    Wait, and top 5 overall? Girl shoooo. Get it.

    1. Gah thanks Erin! Congrats on your half- and surviving Hard Pressed afterwards! I’m not going back til next week…

      1. That’s probably a good decision. I know a girl who also ran the half on Sunday and then came to my Sweat class yesterday at 6 am. I was like “what are you doing here??”

  2. Those results sounds impressive to me: Top 20 among Female and Top 5 in your age group. Plus you finished a marathon (I am impress!). I know that gutted feeling of not to PR when you trained so hard leading up to the race. I see now why people who run talk about running a lot, because I am slowly becoming that person, haha. Congratulations again on the race!

  3. You are a rock star. This was so great to read and all rings true. I guarantee hills and rain add significantly to your pace–and being able to take the positives out of every race (as well as analyzing what you’d do differently) is the sign of a strong (and getting stronger!) runner. As I was telling you, too, I really do believe that a solid spring marathon on hills sets you up for a PR in the fall on a flat course–you’ll only build on all the amazing training you did this winter. And FWIW, I took a MONTH off from Hardpressed after my race.:-)

    1. Cindy, you’re great- thanks so much for the kind words! At the recommendation of a running coach I think I’m going to sign up for a “redemption race” half marathon in the next few weeks to get some confidence back up 🙂

  4. So great meeting you again this morning! I love this post. We are very very similar – total type A. But I love this perspective of judging a race. You should be so happy with all your PR’s throughout the race – especially finishing with a beer in hand. I really liked your idea of your friends and family compiling a list for you. I am going to keep that in mind. I’d love to run with you this summer 🙂 You run with The Crew Runs, right? I want to start joining you guys on the tuesday morning runs.

    1. Thanks Sara! I think I’m going to sign up for a “redemption race” half here in the next few weeks. And yes, I run with The Crew! Tuesday morning runs might be transitioning to the Southport location though- feel free to email me (kristenmgeil at gmail) for more info!

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