Setting Expectations

rock_and_roll_halfI am within three weeks from my goal spring marathon and it’s time for me to start second… And third guessing myself. Time to think about setting my goal.
This race is going to be interesting. I’m super-excited because it is an inaugural marathon (I haven’t run an inaugural race before) in the city next to mine. It’s practically a hometown marathon. I’m also looking at the race with trepidation. I have had a nice dose of humility this past fall.

A little bit of history…

I was trying to train up with my eyes on the big prize – a Boston Qualifying time.
I was hitting training hard. Harder than ever before and something started happening. While my training runs seemed like I was getting strong and my Garmins showed my estimated VO2Max to be higher than I imagined, I started to fall apart at races.
It all started with the Rock ‘n Roll Half Marathon in Virginia Beach.
I had some issues in training. Early warning signs like a shin splint. I was pushing through it and decided that I would run the half marathon at a 7:15-7:26 pace. 7:26 being the BQ time for my age group. I started out on track with my first mile at 7:19 and my second 7:12, but it wasn’t coming naturally. Between the heat, humidity, and my shin splint, I was having to push myself. I held on through the 5K mark slipping to a 7:30. Then things just got ugly – 7:48, 8:11, 8:35, 8:48, all the way to 9:28 on my slowest lap. I was having to stop at aid stations to get water. Then I had to just stop and walk intermittently.
I wound up with a time of 1:51:27 – Rock ‘n Roll Half. This was a typical workout time, not a race.

 And things kept going downhill…

A week later, I ran an 8K and turned in another poor performance, albeit much better than the week before.
Two weeks later, I was running another half marathon. This time, I decided to just keep my pace around 7:30. Try to just turn in a respectable race that is close to my goal marathon pace.
I was starting to feel that there might be hope. I was holding the pace pretty well and felt like I had a good rhythm. I was in the zone and the miles ticked off until mile 10. Almost the second I crossed the mile 10 mark, my hip gave out. I’ve never had the sensation before, but it was quite distressing.
I never realized how complex it was to force your leg to track on a swing. I learned that morning. I forced myself through the last 5K of the race.

And the wheels fell off…

A couple weeks later, I was scheduled to run a challenge of a 5K on a Saturday with a Half Marathon the next day. This was a really important race for me. The half marathon course actually runs in front of my house and it is really exciting for me to have a real “home race.” I ran the 5K on Saturday and it was slow, but expected. I was trying to heal up for the half marathon Sunday.
Sadly, I woke up Sunday and was hurting as I got out of bed. As I stood in the shower, my legs were shaking and I could barely climb the stairs. I was done. There was no way that I could run the race. I bundled up and walked outside later that morning to wave at my friends running by.
I then deferred my goal marathon for a year.


I stopped running for a month and hit the pool for aqua-jogging. I also started to ride my bike and used my elliptical. I finally started to jog a couple miles here and there. After rebuilding for a few months, I am finally at the point where I feel that I can finish the race. But, I am in no shape to attempt a Boston Qualifying time. It’s time to reset my expectations.

Setting Expectations

I have a few basic principles that I try to follow. I am not perfect at doing so and have to often remind myself of these things, but I do attempt live by these views.
  1. Be audacious, not ridiculous – I believe that a goal should be big. There are two ways to set a goal. It can be tiny and easily achievable to build confidence. Or it can be a giant challenge that will strain your abilities to their fullest. I try to do the latter, but sprinkle some of the former on the path to the big goal.
  2. Don’t be in too big of a hurry – One thing about having a big goal is that it should be very difficult to achieve. By its nature, it should take a while. Why rush it? Consider the fact that once you achieve it, you will have to find another goal.
  3. Find satisfaction on the way – You often can sustain your journey by turning in little victories. There is a philosophy that it’s about the journey, not the destination. There is a lot of truth to this. I really try to find the joy in workouts. Try a different route. Tackle a tough workout. Find a new running buddy.
  4. Your goal is for you. Don’t focus on others – Whatever your goal is, it is your’s. Don’t worry about someone else’s. If you are trying to break 5 hours, get a BQ, or break 3 hours, it doesn’t matter. Your goal is meaningful to you. You are competing against yourself. Very finish is a victory.
Those are my thoughts and what I have been trying to use for perspective as I get ready to tackle my second marathon. I’m not always successful and a master at second guessing myself, but I am trying to grow.
How about you? What are your goals? How do you tackle them? What do you recommend? Please comment and share.
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Eric Hunley

RRCA Certified coach. Started to change lifestyle in 2012 when weight was up to 283 lbs. Eventually started running later that year and racing in 2013. Has run in dozens of races and has been featured in some podcasts. Full Bio on About Page.
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