Changing your perspective is both challenging and rejuvenating, as BRO Athlete Team runner Maria Bocanegra learns during the Mountain Junkies’ Explore Your Limits 5K.

Goal setting can be a scary thing. The line between success and failure strives so hard to be black and white.  At the end of the day you either did, or you did not.  There are a lot of pretty and motivational sayings that implore us to focus on the journey or the process. There is immense value in this, and as a reflective individual I do find this effective and important. This type of focus is especially true with running since there are so many factors that go into any one race or training run. Some of these factors are easy to control, or at least they should be. For instance, last July 5th I ran a road 5K and suffered the consequences of one too many Parkway Get Bent IPAs during 4th of July festivities, and too few hours of sleep having traveled back from Costa Rica with two toddlers a mere 36 hours before the race. No, I couldn’t control the sweltering heat, but I could’ve controlled the head pounding and nausea. From what I could tell, I was not alone in this, though I doubt the top runners were suffering the same fate. I took the 4th place overall female, finished happily, quaffed some post race brews (it was a pub run), and chalked up my less-than-stellar time to the factors that I couldn’t control and also to the ones that I should have, but didn’t. The thing is, I went into that race with very few expectations besides having a fun date run with the husband.

When I really focus and train, I have a harder time letting go of the end result in this way. As a competitive runner, when I have set goals, the journey or process can easily take a backseat to the outcome of the race, especially on race day. Suddenly, it is secondary, simply the thing that got me to the place I want to be. And if I don’t arrive across that finish line in the way I had planned, then it’s even harder for me to give the process and training its due respect.

A high level of focus and training is renewed terrain for me at this point in my running career. My children are now (almost) 2 and 4, and my body finally feels back to normal in racing terms. I feel like my strength, speed, and possibility for a normal night’s sleep are at long last on the upswing  (hallelujah). I raced and ran through both of my pregnancies, but the year or so post partum, each time was a long, uphill struggle to get back to equal footing with my pre-baby running self.  I’ve been pumped about where I am with my post-baby fitness, and started the year off well with a 3rd place finish in a competitive trail 10K early in January. I love speed races, and after pouring over the past few years’ race results for the Mountain Junkies’ Explore Your Limits 5K (the next in the Mountain Junkies non-Ultra series), I set the goal of crushing that course and the competition. As a trail runner, I have the secret weapon of being a speedy 5K road racer, and a strong hill runner. 5Ks are few and far between in the trail running world, so this was my big chance to stand atop the tallest of the podium steps. It was also a strategic move since I assumed (correctly) that most of the other fast women in the field would be running the longer 10K. Muahahaha, victory would be mine without a doubt! Clearly I spent significant time and energy thinking about this goal and the hoped-for end result.

And then…. life happened. I’ve noticed this more acutely as I’ve gotten older and had children. My husband has been traveling more for work, so my training has taken a hit as I’ve struggled to balance it with work and the kids (who will always be the top priority). Snow and ice buried my normal running routes (no gym and no treadmill), and even though I made it out 4-5 times per week, the miles were fewer and slower. Our youngest got the flu a couple days before the race, which meant little sleep for mommy and more stress. Then I felt the achiness of whatever virus he had working its way through my body the day before the race, though I tried to ignore it as best as possible. Fast forward to race day, and on top of all that, we are met with icy paths and 10 inches of crunchy snow on most of the course. The gun went off when temperatures were in the teens, and I tried to take off fast. I watched the young lady that would take first place pass me shortly after the start, and a part of me knew that I had lost the race already, in the first 400 meters. I was too cautious on the icy road that covered the first part of the race, and the effort required to race in those conditions (when my body was already screaming at me for dragging it out of bed into the cold to run when it was trying desperately to fend off the flu) was too much. Everyone struggled, and all the times were slow. I placed second, with the slowest 5K race time in my running history (undoubtedly true for most everyone on that course). Reading back over what I just wrote, a twinge of pride eases into my mind as I recount what I put myself through on this journey that is so familiar to those of us that hold dear the runner identity. But man, I’m not going to lie — it hurt to take that 2nd place trophy.

I have found that goals, even unmet ones, can beget new goals. Simply saying those words proves that I am capable of the type of reflection that honors the process. Maybe, there is hope for me yet. A new goal for my next race is to not let the disappointment and challenges of this past race mentally defeat me. I’ll rest, spring will start showing it’s face, and I’ll run with guts next time.  Most importantly, I’ll try harder to appreciate life happening in all of its forms. I will keep setting goals, and I will be okay with feeling disappointed when things don’t go as planned.  It’s the only way we get better. And lest we forget the camaraderie that goes along with competition, my hat’s off to all of my fellow hardcore winter runners out there. You all make the process a lot more fun.

– You can follow along Maria Bocanegra and the other B.R.O. Athlete Team members here.