What's a reasonable goal?
Cross country is a sport of goals. When you're not racing other people, you're most commonly racing yourself. Some even see others as jumping-off points to help themselves get faster. We all feed off of one another with the hopes of increasing our own speed. An important aspect of this is one I've written about before: setting goals. Without goals, training and racing becomes more difficult. We set time goals or place goals to help push ourselves past our previous limits. But how far is too far? As is a habit of many new runners, setting unreasonable goals can actually be detrimental to a season. Throughout our lives, we are told to reach for the stars, but should we?
I understand that setting high goals encourages growth beyond what we previously thought possible. By setting yourself up in big shoes, you are more likely to grow into them. Yet, I've watched time and time again as runners have set themselves unreasonable expectations in a race and then found themselves disappointed even if they did good relative to their speed. For example, I knew a runner who's PR in the 5k was twenty minutes. His new goal was to then get to a seventeen minute 5k over one season. In the end, he broke nineteen minutes and still improved by ninety seconds. However he was still disappointed in himself. He was so disappointed that his sadness influenced his next races, having a negative effect on his season at large. What puzzled me the most was that he was not at least satisfied in part by the feat he had achieved by dropping ninety seconds - a considerable amount of time in the 5k.
"We set time goals or place goals to help push ourselves past our previous limits."Andersen Wood , Marcus HS senior
Of course, having high expectations is not always a bad thing. New runners who don't fully understand how fast they really are can end up setting high expectations and then knock them out of the park. This acts as a confidence boost and encourages even more acceleration in races. This concept has many sides and I can't even pretend to say I know the right answer. I try to set reasonable expectations for myself, always striving to improve, but maybe if I set higher goals I'd be faster, or maybe I'd only disappoint myself. It's a complicated art, setting goals.
So, I really don't know what's a reasonable goal. There are not any right answers and numerous factors to consider at all times. If you've read this far, you're undoubtedly asking yourself if I used 420 words to tell you that I don't know. And yes, that's exactly what I've done. Now I'm going to tell you what I do know: we can all be running faster. There is not one person who's done every workout to the best of their ability, who has never cut mileage, who has never slowed, even a little, when things started to hurt. We've all had days or weeks, months or years where we slowed down because things hurt or because our hearts weren't in it. Today, we're in the heart of track season. Things are ramping up for district in a few weeks, then region and state beyond that. Now, it's time to really focus up on what's to come. Every event is an opportunity for success. Every race is a chance to improve, but only if you give it your all. Only by getting a little crazy and deciding to speed up when things start to hurt can we start to truly achieve greatness. That is a reasonable goal. Not a wild PR, but greatness. That is a reasonable goal we should all strive towards.