When Average is so Much More. Setting Race Goals

Armstrong Redwoods State Park

Objectively speaking, I’m an average, middle of the pack runner. This doesn’t bother me in the slightest. My race goals are based on my achievements, not those of the others who show up on race day. There are many ways to set race goals.

Doing New Math

My last race was a 17K trail run at Armstrong Redwoods State Park in northern California. It’s a very beautiful, very difficult, and very hilly course. Or more accurately, looking at the elevation chart of the race, it’s really just two big hills that take 10 miles to go up and down. I finished 54th out of 64 finishers.

Armstrong Redwoods State Park
Armstrong Redwoods trail run

Needless, to say I didn’t have to stick around for the medal ceremony. Actually, I think the medal ceremony was finished and the winners had already gone home by the time I finished.

Some people may view me as a straggler to the finish line but I don’t think of it that way.

I beat all of the people who had registered for the race but didn’t show up on race day. And all of the people who slept in instead of doing the run they thought of doing, but didn’t. I beat all of the people who think they should run, but never quite manage to start.

Gaining Perspective

Finishing towards the back of the pack bothers some runners, especially when just starting out. When I first started running, ‘finishing last’ was near the top of my list of concerns when registering for a race.

I recently was a pace group leader for a local running club made up mostly of new runners. I was talking to one of the girls about a race that she had done the week before. She’d finished in 200-something place (out of 300 something runners). She said this with obvious disappointment in her voice.

She’d said earlier that something like 100 people hadn’t shown up at the start line (the weather had been odd so I think the fair weather runners didn’t show). I quickly pointed out that, just like me at Armstrong, she beat every single one of those 100 people who didn’t show up at the starting line. Just looking at the place number was giving her an incomplete picture.

Race Stats

As race timing technology matures, there is a trend towards breaking down finishing times in a dozen different ways: gun time, chip time, splits, ranking (some math equation comparing your time to the winning time that I’ve never really tried to figure out), and age weighted to name a few.

Comparing my finishing time and my race experience to the times and experiences of hundreds and maybe thousands of other runners just doesn’t mean anything to me. I hope these numbers aren’t discouraging to new runners.

At Armstrong Redwoods, I based my race goals on my finishing time from when I did the race last year. By that standard (and based on how I felt at the finish), the race was a success. I hate to think that my positive race experience could have been ruined if I were the kind of person who gets caught up in the ranking and weighted place time. As it turns out, my race memories were dampened by the scourge of poison oak, but that’s a story for a different day.

I say: set your goals for a race based on where you are as a runner, based it on your training and your experience. Don’t consider yourself or your race a success or a failure based on numbers. The numbers mostly reflect the demographics of hundreds of strangers who happen to be in the same physical space as you on a given morning.

It’s All In How You Look At It

If you are the kind of person who gets caught up in race data, an alternative is to selectively use data.

For example: Last year, I finished the Miner’s Revenge Trail Marathon in 15th place. How amazing is that?

Not everybody needs to know there were only 17 finishers.

What do you consider success? Do you like comparing your time to the times of other finishers?

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Sara is a runner, running coach, writer, blogger, and a seeker of the irreverent and the unexpected.

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