Experienced runners will often give this advice on goal-making to new runners (yes, it’s another running/writing metaphor. Bear with me). When training for a race, runners should make three goals. One is a shoot-for-the-moon, best of all possible worlds goal: for example, I’m going to qualify for Boston. Or, I’m going to PR (personal record, or in other words, I’m going to run the fastest I ever have for this distance). One is a more realistic goal based on how your training is going: I’m going to shave 5 minutes off my time. The last goal is minimalist: I am going to finish this race.
The last goal is kept in reserve for what happens if the race goes terribly wrong. GI distress, you trip and fall (I’ve seen it happen), it’s raining, or even worse, it’s 85 degrees and 90% humidity. I ran a half with a woman whose boyfriend had broken up with her only a few weeks before the race. She was an ultra runner; the type who runs 50 miles in the mountains of Colorado without batting an eyelash. She was running the Austin half as a break between more serious, challenging races. I was running it because that’s all I could run.
We met at the start of the race, and by the end, we became best friends. It’s a wonderful thing that happens in the magic of the race.
On a good day, she would have run me into the ground. On that day, she finished within 5 minutes of me and came up to me crying afterwards because she was so happy. You see, she ran (literally, it was a race) into her boyfriend midway through the south Austin hills and couldn’t stop crying. The race no longer mattered; it was all she could do to finish. And when she crossed the finish line, all 5’3″, 115 pounds of her, she looked happier than an Olympic marathon champion. I’m sure the adrenalin and endorphins helped. But she was an experienced runner; she was able to change her goals midway through the race and end strong. And I think that’s why she was able to overcome any doubts or disappointments that might have ruined her day and instead turn them into a positive experience.
I think a lot of the times we writers only set the shoot-for-the-moon, best of all possible worlds goal: I’m going to get published, make zillions of dollars, and build a mansion like that kid in the movie “Blank Check”: