Our reasons for starting running are many and varied. Maybe it was just something we did because our friends or family did it when we were young. Maybe track or cross country seemed the cool thing to do in school, or we found running helpful to our other athletic endeavors. Maybe we came to it later in life, to improve our physical or mental health, or to generally feel better about ourselves.
Regardless of the initial reason we ran, we all reach a point where we really need to step back and understand our bigger purpose in continuing to do so. A loss of motivation, injury, or missed goal can be the driver to do so, or we may actually find success and begin to wonder “what’s next?” or “how far can I take this?”.
This topic struck me while I was out for a short quick lunch run the other day. I hadn’t planned a run that day, so it was essentially “free miles” to do with as I pleased (though most runs really should be viewed that way now, while I’m recovering from injury). It was an unusually warm and sunny mid-March day, and I opted to run with my non-prescription running sunglasses, limiting my ability to see fine details.
However, it was the kind of day where the details didn’t matter – what mattered was the “macro” view, not the “micro” view. It was a joy to be able to run, something we often take for granted. It was a pleasure to feel the warmth of the sun, to hear the birds (and even the neighborhood landscapers our far earlier in the year than usual), and to smell the early spring scents.
Far too often we get wrapped up in the details of our running – the pace we need to hit, the miles we need to record, or, when we do even let the details go a bit, the perceived effort. This is what can make running seem like a chore, to create stress when we miss a workout goal, or get anxious when things don’t feel as they should.
Sometimes we need to step back and take the longer-term view of our running – far more often than we do, in fact. David Allen provides a nice context for this, in his analogy of viewing our purpose and goals from different altitudes, as if in an airplane. I’m a big fan of his [amazon_link id="B000WH7PKY" target="_blank" container="" container_class="" ]Getting Things Done[/amazon_link] approach to personal productivity, and this includes his perspective on long-term goal setting (covered in greater detail in [amazon_link id="B001AO0GRC" target="_blank" container="" container_class="" ]Making It All Work[/amazon_link]). Translating his levels into a language that is relevant for runners, they are:
- 50,000 feet – Our overarching purpose in running. This should be more specific than “to be healthier”, “to see the world through running”, or “to challenge myself” by including the reasons why we desire these things. Maybe we want to be healthier to be present for our family as we age, or to compete to have an outlet for frustrations from other aspects in our life, like our career.
- 40,000 feet – Our three to five year goals. This is a typical timeframe for a goal that takes several seasons of development to achieve, like qualifying for Boston. It is also the time we spend in a given age group and eventually becomes the period over which we can achieve our lifetime PR’s – which is a critical time to understand your 50,000-foot view. Only a good understanding of our purpose in running lets us keep congruity in setting our long-term goals.
- 30,000 feet – Our one to two year goals. This is where we can get more specific about what we seek to accomplish in the next three or four training cycles. These, in turn, should be a subset of or help us build towards the three to five year goals.
- 20,000 feet – this is our areas of responsibility. In a full-life context, it would include running among our other obligations (family, career, volunteer, etc.), but each broad category can have it’s own areas of responsibility within it. These are where you need to focus your time and energy to achieve the higher levels of goals and commitments. For running, it usually goes beyond just the training itself. We need to commit time to learning about our sport, to selecting and planning our races, to developing injury-prevention approaches, and other endeavors.
- 10,000 feet and below (runway) – these are the projects (planning your race participation, building your training plan, etc.) and tasks (run a 5-mile tempo workout, read [amazon_link id="B0026IUOX2" target="_blank" container="" container_class="" ]Advanced Marathoning[/amazon_link], reserve hotel, etc.) respectively. I covered this aspect of GTD in a previous post.
All too often we get caught up in the 10,000 foot level and below. Obviously we need to spend a lot of time there to meet today’s priorities. But it is occasionally helpful, even in the midst of that, to be able to elevate our perspective and regain the view of our horizon. “What will this difficult workout deliver that meets my long-term goals?” can be a more motivating question to ponder than, “Do I really need to hit this split?”.
Not investing the time in developing our high-level views is what leads to:
- A loss of motivation or direction when a shorter-term goal is achieved (i.e., I qualified for Boston – what’s next?)
- Frustration over a missed workout.
- Pushing too hard during a given season and the resulting burn-out (or injury).
- Impatience that leads us to return from injury too soon.
- A sense of despair when we reach the point that we can no longer improve our results due to our inevitable aging.
So take the time on a regular basis even when things are going well to review your longer-term goals and purpose. And lift your eyes to the horizon when you face a bit of adversity. You may well find the energy and answers you need to help overcome malaise and build and sustain some momentum in your running.