My next race is actually 2 races in one day: the Oakland Running Festival‘s, “We Run This Town” challenge on March 20th. I’m running a 5K at 7:30, followed by a half marathon at 9:10. As race day approaches, I’m thinking more and more about my goals. There’s a lot out there about goal setting, especially on outcome versus process-based goals. (Angela wrote a great post about this over the New Year, and there was a really good post published soon after the Olympic Marathon Trials by a female qualifier — if anyone knows what I’m talking about, please leave the link in the comments!).
Anyway, so the gist of it is that outcome-based goals are focused on (you guessed it) a particular outcome, like “I will finish in X (time)” or “I will PR”. While these types of goals can be very motivating, the problem with an outcome-based goal is that there are a lot of factors that can get in the way of achieving that goal, some of which are out of your control, such as weather, illness, or faulty race logistics (poor course marking, etc.).
In contrast, processed-based goals are focused on (you guessed it again) the process itself. Instead of saying, “I will PR”, you break down the goal by asking, “What kinds of things will help me run my best time on race day?” I’m new to process-based goal setting, but I like it because it forces me to examine my biggest weaknesses and think of each mini goal as a building block towards that bigger goal. Also, I cannot tell you how many times I’ve gotten to the start line without adequate training, just hoping that race day magic will do its thing and I’ll miraculously finish with a personal best. (The “problem” is that this actually happened to me enough times when I first started running that I thought it was a real thing. Turns out, there’s only so much improvement without actual work involved.)
I admit that my original goal for the Oakland 5K was to PR (faster than 25:25), a typical outcome-based goal. However, as race day draws near, I realized that everything I’ve been doing has been process-based – including:
- Committing to 2 morning “speed” workouts a week, even though I hate running fast in the mornings. The only solution has been to wake up 30 minutes before my run to have coffee and wake up!
- Embracing tempo runs and mile repeats, because I know I need to work on pushing past the discomfort of accumulated effort. Tempo runs are still one of the hardest, most daunting workouts for me.
- Doing workouts that I don’t want to do, like an 11-mile run on the treadmill, with the middle 8 miles at half marathon pace. Talk about a mental workout! I could tell my brain was cooked, because the 4-mile recovery run the next day was such a slog, even though my body felt fine.
- Giving up desserts and alcohol 3 weeks before the race. More on this below.
- Focusing on the 5K as the goal race, without thinking too much about goals for the half marathon. This has been really hard for me as my fitness has improved. I’ve let my ego get in the way, thinking about how awesome it would be to PR in both distances. Even the Gypsy Runner, who typically encourages me to think big, advised me to concentrate on just one of the races. My legs will likely be toast after the 5K anyway. 🙂
- Studying the race course. There are a lot of turns, and it would benefit me greatly if I can run the tangents.
The “safety” of process-based goals is that I stop thinking about things I can’t control. For instance, it’s been very rainy and windy recently, and the current forecast calls for chance of rain. Then there’s the course, which, as I mentioned above, has a lot of turns for a 5K and could be significantly longer than 3.1 miles. Finally, I’m getting over a lingering head cold, and who knows if it’s going to be gone by race day, or if I’ll catch another one in the meantime. By focusing on things I can control, I feel way more calm and at peace, which I’m sure lowers my cortisol/stress hormone levels.
As for the “diet” I’m on — the first thing I want to say is that I know that I don’t *need* to lose any weight. Everything I’m saying below relates to my racing weight – which, to be frank, I don’t even know the number on the scale, because I don’t own one. When I talk about racing weight, it’s more related to how I feel when I’m running, the way my clothes fit (or don’t), and general bodily functions (sorry if TMI). I feel like I have to put that disclaimer out there because I know weight is a touchy issue, especially with women and even more so with female athletes. Also, just because I’m a thin person, it doesn’t mean my diet and nutrition are as optimal as they could be.
OK, so that said — I’ve always taken an “everything in moderation” approach to eating. However, I do have two* major weaknesses: alcohol and sweets. I’d say I enjoy alcohol and sweets in moderation as well – one glass of wine with dinner, or a small slice of birthday cake or a pastry every once in a while. However, I know that I indulge in them enough that I could use a little restraint. I originally thought about giving up alcohol and sweets in February, but a stressful start to the month at work and a Crazy Cat Lady Reunion at the end of the month led me to put off my “diet”.
(*Well, three, if you count noodles, but I’m not willing to give those up just yet.)
Fast forward to last week, when I was staring down at my goals for the Oakland 5K and wondering where I could cut time. With less than 3 weeks left, I doubted there would be much improvement on the physiological side of things. I could for sure work on the mental toughness. Then, I remembered my previous goal of cutting sugar and alcohol. Of course! There are some who estimate that you can run 20 seconds per mile faster if you lose 10 lbs. While I’d love to run 20 seconds faster per mile, I don’t have 10 lbs. to lose, not to mention the fact that I’m not willing to dramatically cut calories (in just 3 weeks, no less). But, I was OK with cutting desserts and alcohol from my diet for 3 weeks. That seemed doable. The good news is that, after only 10 days, I can already see and feel that I’ve shed some weight. It’s not all in my head – even the GR has noticed. The bad news is that it’s been a lot tougher than I thought it would be! I go to a weekly meeting where there are always delicious pastries. It’s taken a lot of willpower to not grab one. On more than one occasion, I’ve come home hankering for that post-work beer or glass of wine while I was cooking, and had to chug a glass of water instead. I’ve decided to turn this “sacrifice” into a race day motivator — when I’m suffering and wanting to give up, I’ll think about all of the times I exercised self-control, and think about how good that post-race beer will taste. Hopefully, it will spur me on to push harder and finish strong!
This coming week (race week!), I’ll also start being more mindful about hydration, eating more balanced meals, and getting enough sleep. I want to put myself in the best possible position on race day, come what may. And worse case scenario? I run my heart out, miss out on a PR, be sad for a little while, then pick up the pieces and run another 5K a few weeks later. That’s the great thing about 5Ks – there are lots of them, and recovery time is almost zero. 🙂
Unrelated: I got a new toy this week! A Garmin Forerunner 235. So far, I love that it finds the GPS satellites super quickly, that they’ve redesigned the charger to clamp more precisely, that it wirelessly and automatically syncs with Garmin Connect (and Strava) at the end of every workout, and that it notifies me of incoming texts and calls. Not to mention that it’s got a built-in heart rate monitor and it also functions as a fitness tracker! The couple of things I dislike are the size (though it’s very lightweight) and there are too many buttons to push for certain functions (like toggling the “Do Not Disturb” on/off). I’ll write a more in-depth review in a couple of months, but so far it’s been good! Also – I’ve left Dailymile and started an account at Strava. Friend me if you’re on Strava too!