Have you ever had an important fitness goal you discovered you just weren’t going to reach? One TFE athlete made that discovery last weekend. By exercising 3 important principles - focus on what you can control, adapt your goal, focus on small victories - she turned what might be called a failure into an unexpected success.
Long-time TFE runner Theresa Helsel had planned the perfect race for a marathon PR. Her fitness was at peak levels. She’d chosen a flat race and fast course at the perfect location. The weather was to be cool and overcast. She’d prepared diligently, doing every workout in her training plan. Her form, fitness, and nutrition were dialed in. Her training runs indicated that she was on track not only to beat her PR, but to smash it.
A few days prior to the event, she saw the weather was going to be hot and she knew that her PR could be in jeopardy. She would have to alter her pacing and slow considerably to manage the effort in the heat. However, she came up with a plan to have her spectator friends provide additional bottles of fluids for her at certain places on the course. She couldn’t change the weather, but instead focused on what she could control - her hydration.
As she raced, she knew it wouldn’t be a PR day. Her splits started out a bit too fast for the conditions and she had to modify her pacing to adjust. The heat intensified, necessitating further adjustments to her pace. She kicked a curb while moving up onto a sidewalk and fell, skinning her hands and knees and tearing her race bib from her top. She had to stop to assess the damage to herself as well as reattach the bib (imagine trying to open and close tiny safety pins with sweaty, bloody hands). A PR was now out of the question. So, she changed her goal. She could have dropped out and saved her legs for another race. Many people would. However, she instead decided to keep moving forward and focused on racing strong for that particular day.
In the waning miles of the race, she ran steadily but was passed by several other women. Theresa reflected back on her training and the workouts she’d done in preparation for the event. While watching her competition pull further ahead, she drew strength from her past workouts, remembering those small mental and physical wins accomplished during training and up to that point in the race. She focused on those victories, which allowed her to find another gear, knowing that her legs were up to the task. She knew her training had conditioned her mind and body to push hard on tired legs. So that’s what she did. She dialed up the pace, and pushed hard to ultimately pass the pack of women just before the finish. Yet another small victory.
While the PR didn’t happen, Theresa managed to run her 4th fastest marathon ever. She ended up finishing as the 4th fastest woman overall and the top Master’s finisher. It was an epic day, but for different reasons than she’d hoped. Of the 22 marathons she’s run, including Boston and New York, she considers this race one of her best achievements. Buy focusing on what she could control, adapting her end goal, and staying motivated by small efforts, Theresa turned a struggling effort into into an incredibly rewarding one.
Maybe you haven’t run a marathon this year but you’ve lost a little steam on your health and fitness goals. A 2016 study by the University of Scranton show that 92% of people who set New Year’s goals don’t achieve them. Chances are you’ll fall into that 92% at some point in life. Too many people get sucked into a downward spiral of self doubt and demotivation once they decide they cannot reach their original goal. Like the friend who sticks with the super-restrictive fad diet for 23 days, then binges on pot stickers, Twinkies, and M&M’s after they realized they have inadvertently been eating something containing gluten. Or a pro athlete who drops out during the race after falling off the lead pack due to a mysterious ‘injury’. Your goal fail may be less extreme but no less demotivating.
If you want to stay motivated and engaged after a serious setback that put your original goal in serious jeopardy think of Theresa’s example. Focus on what you can control. Adapt your goal. Find your small victories to keep you going.
1) Focus on what you can control. Give it your best for the circumstances. Theresa’s bad weather race day is the perfect running example- If the weather for your ‘A’ race turns out to be terrible, do the best you can with what you’ve got and run as best you can for that day. If you walk away from the race having done your best for that particular day under those conditions, then mission accomplished.
2) Change the goal to keep moving forward. If your goal is to run the entire 10k, but you’ve started way too fast and are out of gas early on, change the goal to run in between every aid station. If your New Year’s resolution of daily workouts has gone off the rails, try shifting your objective to exercising twice on the weekend and once during the week. The real-world advice Rocky gave his son holds true here: “You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain't about how hard ya hit. It's about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward!” Keep moving forward with your goals. Alter them, stretch them, move them. But keep moving forward.
3) Stay motivated by small victories. While quitting is sometimes the right thing to do (check out a post about quitting here) it is usually better to reevaluate what has gotten you to this point. Take an inventory of what you’ve already accomplished in the process of striving to meet your goal is a great way to stay motivated. Remember your victories and reframe your perspective from a negative one into a positive one. A positive shift in mindset can help keep your engine firing: the five pounds lost or the energy gained even with an imperfect gym attendance can remind you not to give up.
Most of us have ambitious goals that we don’t achieve quite as we envision them. Using these three principles, we can keep ourselves motivated and keep getting faster and stronger and healthier.
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