Reflecting on the Process

Running is possibly the simplest sport in the world, but as people, especially as runners, we like to complicate things. One of the main complications is when we focus on the end result as the single defining moment of your journey as an athlete. Don’t get me wrong - setting goals is a great exercise, and reminding yourself of your goals can be a healthy way to stay accountable. However, goals inherently carry risk. Maybe your goal is a certain time, or a certain distance, or a certain place at a big competition. Whatever your goal may be, it is your goal because you have not done it yet. It’s risky, and that goal can become really heavy when you carry it around everyday. We can mitigate this heaviness by slowing down and finding joy in the process. 

I think the best way to do this is by remembering why you love the sport and why you keep showing up everyday. What made you first decide to pursue running? What inspired your goals? Maybe it is your teammates, or the way it feels to move your body. For some of you, it may be that it feels like you have tried every other sport, and you are finally good at something. Focus on whatever made you love it in the first place and what keeps you motivated. 

For me, this has looked different at different times in my life. I remember that I fell in love with running because I was amazed at my competitors. I thought it was so inspiring that other girls could run close to 5:00 for a mile, and I wanted to see if I could do that too. I wanted to know my limits and see how far running could take me. In college, I focused on my teammates. Especially on easy run days, rather than thinking of practice as another time commitment, I saw it as an hour to hang out with my friends and talk. Now, I find my joy in the process from a few different sources. I love to see my teammates at the track on workout days, and it is so fun to see what we can do together. Especially in races, thinking about my teammates is my biggest source of mental strength. But on days that we are not working out, I absolutely love running at the river when the sun is first coming up. It is so nice to have an hour away from your phone, computer, email, or whatever else fights for your attention at the beginning of the day. I focus on the way the sun looks when it hits the water, the way the morning air feels, and the sounds the birds make as they are waking up. I look around for the same handful of people I see every morning, and it feels like we have a small community even though I don’t know most of their names.These are things that have made me love the sport and keep me enjoying the repetitive, everyday routine. Obviously, it’s not sunny everyday or maybe I am working out at the track by myself. On these days, I might remind myself of my goals. But I have found that I make the most growth in my career when I am not focused on the result, but on enjoying the day to day process. 

As part of the process, it is important to remember that different training days have different purposes. You are not going to reach your goal of running, maybe 5:00 for the mile, if you carry that everyday. Some days you will be sore, tired, and you just will not feel fast. That’s okay. Go easy, maybe easier than normal. Look around and enjoy where you are running or who you are running with. There are days to run fast and really work hard, but there are days that you should just enjoy the movement. The days where you slow down enable you to have the days that you are able to reach your goals. Enjoy them! 

It’s also important to not compare your process to anyone else’s. You might run 20 miles every week, while another athlete you compete against runs 50. You may need to run your easy days at 10:00 pace, while your friends can run 8:00 pace barely taking a breath. You may have teammates that can lift a lot more than you, or can sprint faster, and I’m sure you can think of many more points of comparison. By comparing your process to someone else’s, you are giving yourself reasons that you can’t before you even try. Trust your training and what you have done to prepare. 

I’ve been running professionally now for about a year and a half, but after college I didn’t run at all for about a year and a half before starting over. When I first started to try again, it was really hard to see where my fitness was against what other women were accomplishing. I started to train again around the time of the 2021 Olympics, what a crazy source of comparison! I was nervous for my 8x200 workout, while these women were running 10,000 meters at the same pace I was hoping to run my 200s in! This all came back to enjoying it. I was able to have fun getting to challenge myself again. When I was able to simply enjoy that challenge and try as hard as I could not to compare, I was able to really surprise myself. I learned that their process is their process, but my process is my own. 

In the last couple months, I have run races against some women I have looked up to for as long as I have been running. How can I not compare myself? It’s hard to be on starting lines as someone who was never an All American in college and look around and remember watching at least a handful of women standing around me win a title, or compete really well at USAs or NCAAs or even the Olympics or World Championships. I know that I am still only running about 70-80% of the same volume as other women in the longer distance races. About a year ago, I would be on these starting lines and let that comparison limit me before the race even started. I would convince myself that I did not have the same resume, so there is no way I can compete with them. I would think about the miles they were running that I am not ready for yet, rather than being excited how far I’ve come in my ability to handle the training I am doing. This comparison trap never fully goes away, especially in a sport like running, but there are ways to battle this. 

One way I have been able to battle this is by doing the little things. If I know that I am doing all the supplemental things I can, I am able to carry that with me on race day as a source of strength. Realistically, it takes 15-20 minutes to finish PT exercises and stretch everyday, but that is almost 2 hours over 1 week, and 8 hours over the course of a month. If you can find joy and strength in those little things, you now have a huge mental tool to use on race day. I know that I’m not ready to run 100+ miles every week, but I am capable of making sure I am healthy and able to maximize the 60-70 miles I do run. However, the best method of fighting this comparison trap is by choosing to hear the people who believe in me louder than my own comparison. This does have to be an active choice; it is so much easier to focus on your own doubt. I have learned that even if I think there are 20 women who I feel should beat me, I’ll go run with the top pack if my coaches tell me I am ready. Every time you choose to lean into the voices who believe in you, it will be easier to trust them and it will grow your belief in yourself and your process. Obviously, not every race will be perfect, but it is better to try and fail than to mentally take yourself out from the beginning. Especially on race day, focus on your preparation and the people who believe in you. You are all standing on the same start line. Don’t compare your process to anyone else. 

Running is a simple sport, and focusing on the process allows it to stay simple. While setting goals is important, they become heavy when they are the daily focal point rather than enjoying each run and trusting your process. When you learn how to love each run for what it is intended to be, you will be able to really surprise yourself in how strong you are and what you can accomplish.

By: Emma Grace Hurley, Atlanta Track Club Elite

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