Recently, a friend and I were enjoying some post-run morning coffee when she asked me an innocent question, one that runners often discuss before, during, or after their runs.
“So… what’s next?”
“Just working on getting better,” I replied, as my focus at the moment is simply lowering my half marathon time, then rolling that training into a faster 5K/10K block.
“Why don’t you do more longer races?” she asked. “And when are you going to qualify for Boston again?”
If you’ve been a runner for any time at all, you know this progression. Start out with small races, keep going bigger. And bigger. It’s almost an unwritten rule that you’re not a real runner unless you’re constantly eyeing longer distances and bigger experiences.
For a lot of runners, including my friend, my “next” doesn’t make sense. At times, I question my own ambitions, as if I’m going against nature or some social law.
Truthfully, I’m just pumped about teaching my legs to go fast again and focusing on the craft of being a more efficient runner. What happens after this, I’m flexible with.
Don’t get me wrong– I’ve completed three marathons and have enjoyed them (for the most part). I have tremendous respect for the distance. I’ll probably run a couple more; however, I’m not feeling a huge rush to do so.
Let’s get this out of the way—this article isn’t going to be about long distances and harder goals. This is about making sure you set your goals for the right reasons, so you can maximize your experience as a runner. We all want that, right?
So why the shorter stuff? For me at least, I get a lot of satisfaction of seeing how much speed/speed endurance a relatively athletic 30-something can produce. I have a weird fascination with riding the line, and that’s something you can do at any distance.
Bumper stickers and belt buckles aside, the truth is that you can be a badass runner and get a whole lot out of your experience without ever going the full 26.2 (or 50K, or double ironman, etc.). You are not inferior to the guy in the office with a misplaced M-dot tattoo who humblebrags about doing Ironmans every weekend.
A couple weeks ago, the awesome and hilarious David Roche put out an article in Trail Runner Magazine titled “You Don’t Have to Run Ultras”. Roche puts it succinctly: “Run whatever distance you want; the distance doesn’t define the value of the athlete or the person.”
I couldn’t agree more. You don’t need decals going from your bumper to your roof rack to be an accomplished runner. Say this out loud: the marathon doesn’t have to be the end-all-be-all.
But, aren’t we supposed to keep going up in distance? Isn’t this how it works? Isn’t longer always better? It’s only better if it’s the right fit for you. Notice I didn’t say ‘the right fit for someone else’s view of you.’
In my own esteemed opinion of myself, I feel like I’m a pretty self-referenced gal. However, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t occasionally find myself slipping into the comparison game when my goal races are 5K’s and 10K’s while all my running friends are gearing up for fall marathons and ultra-marathons.
And yes, those are majestic distances that demand respect. But are they the best path to your best running self? Only you can determine this. If you love to run and your ambitions differ from others, you are not lacking anything.
Honestly, the one race in which I dug the deepest ever was a 10K on a cross country course. I’m aware XC is niche, especially for adults, but this affirms my point– it all comes down to the experience you want to have. And ripping through the woods appeals to me, but not for 50 miles. And that’s okay.
Whose goal is it?
Is this something that excites you and makes you feel alive? Or is it something you think you should do based on other’s expectations?
They talk about peer pressure in elementary and middle school all the time. I’ve seen runners and triathletes in my office struggling with feeling like they “should” do something because they were told so even though they didn’t feel ready or have the time/life space to train for it.
Honestly, maybe we all need to take a refresher course in peer pressure when we join training groups (and especially Strava groups). The bottom line is this: own your goals: whatever they are, wherever they are. If the decision’s all you and you are physically prepared for the training, then go for it (having a little support from others helps too)!
What is your ‘why?’.
You will get so much more out of our racing if it’s tied to something that is meaningful to you. The ‘why’ may change, but that’s okay– we’re constantly evolving as humans, so why tie yourself to just being a ‘marathoner’ or ‘ultrarunner’. For me right now, I’m just a runner. I enjoy training and racing, so why not test myself across distances and racing formats? Knowing and tapping into what motivates you is clutch, not just for running success, but for long-term life enjoyment.
What do I want to get out of this experience?
Finish times aside, what do you want to gain from your racing? Are you more intrinsically or extrinsically motivated? There are more reasons than there are Blue Bell Ice Cream flavors to race (non-Texans, just trust me on this). Remember– you can find challenge, endorphins, and camaraderie at any distance.
Dang. Thanks for getting to the end of this article with me! Perhaps the biggest thing I want to drive home is that everyone’s process, progress, and passion looks different. Fleetwood Mac wasn’t lying when they said “you can go your own way.” And you should. Go further, go faster, go alone, go with friends. Whether it’s a marathon, ultra, or a local road race– find your line and ride it all the way.
Running is running.
Enjoy the ride.