As I crossed the finish line a few weeks ago at the Flagline 50k in Bend OR, I had mixed emotions due to my expectations of how I performed. Expectations of a running performance for me can be both personal and from what others expect out of you. I tend to focus on the personal and most of the time I have been quite hard on myself.
I hate nothing more than to hear runners “sandbag” before and after a race. I’ve heard all the excuses imaginable, only to get my back side handed to me during the race by the same runner who considered himself unfit etc. However whether we realize it or not the sandbagging can sometimes be a human mechanism for quelling our own and other’s expectations. If the expectations become too great then it is human nature to diffuse the situation often through runners announcing publically our array of excuses.
I’ve probably done this more than I realize or more than I care to acknowledge but I do try to keep my excuses to myself. If I am on the start line at a race, more times than not I’m ready to roll. I felt ready for the Flagline 50k and had fairly high expectations of how I would perform. Secretly I had a goal of breaking four hours, first male master or top three overall. However I did have two fears (excuses) in the back of my mind. The first concern was my ankle that I had sprained and the cause for a DNF at my last ultra. I had my suspect ankle taped and I wore a brace, still I worried. Secondly I knew this race was all above an elevation of 6200’and up to 7200’ so I was concerned some about running at a higher elevation.
I finished just slightly below the mark on my goals. I had no issues with the ankle during the race but the higher elevation I felt hurt my time. Since I had set my own expectations to an all or nothing expected outcome, I unwillingly set my self up for failure. I grappled with my performance for the next few days. How much did the elevation affect my performance? It is hard to know but probably not all that much. There was nothing I could do about the altitude and I found myself using that as my excuse time and time again as people asked me how I performed. As I said I hate excuses and sandbagging but here I was consumed with seeking an excuse to help alleviate my own personal expectation and now what other people were possibly considering of my race performance.
As the days have passed I’ve come to grips with my performance as acceptable. I chose this race mainly for the beautiful location in Bend, OR at Mount Bachelor and just to try something different in a new area. I wanted to approach this race in a more relaxed, low key mindset but as the days approached my competitive juices took over. My time goals were somewhat arbitrary as I’d never run the course and they were probably too rigid.
In retrospect, what I should have done was stick to a three tiered goal approach that I most always use. I rank my race goals in order as A, B, and C. My “A” goal is my pie in the sky, all the planets lining up goal, down to goal “C”, which should still be a very acceptable outcome. Also having multiple goal levels has helped me relax more prior to a race. Setting goals is a great motivational tool as long as you are fair and don’t expect too much of yourself. By setting unattainable expectations and goals you run the risk of diminishing the outcome of your performance and thus the search for those post race excuses. I will soon enough be going back to my three tiered goal for my next race.