By our very nature, competitive runners are never satisfied. If we run a PR, we want to run faster next time. If we win a race, we want to win another. This constant desire to do better is critical to the development of distance runners because it makes us continually strive to improve. But it can also be harmful when it limits our ability to celebrate our accomplishments, and to enjoy the moments that we’ve worked so hard to achieve. The key to prospering as a runner is to find the right balance between those two competing forces.
As a coach, I often find myself falling into the trap of looking to the future and not appreciating the present. A perfect example of my succumbing to the never satisfied mindset was in the aftermath of the outstanding performance of the Pacers Running//GRC New Balance women’s team at the 2016 USATF Club Cross Country Championships, which were contested on December 10 in Tallahassee, Florida. Clubs, as the race is commonly referred to, is the one event every year where the top post-collegiate clubs in the country compete in a meaningful team competition. The field includes teams comprised of full-time professional runners, as well as elite non-professional teams like Pacers//GRC New Balance. While we are technically a professional team in the sense that we are generously sponsored by Pacers and New Balance, our athletes are engineers, lawyers, nurses, consultants, teachers, and graduate students who fit their training around their professional obligations. Going into the meet, I knew that our women’s team was ready for a strong performance, and that the women had a chance to do better than our previous best finish at Clubs, when we were 10th in 2014. I also knew it would be difficult to improve on our 2014 placing because the entire top 10 from 2015 was in this year’s field. Despite the robust competition, based on our excellent preparation, I thought we had a shot to place as high as 7th if everything went perfectly. As I watched the race unfold, it was apparent that the women were running extremely well. As I counted runners across the line and saw that both Stephanie Reich and Emily de la Bruyere placed in the top 30, I was confident we had achieved our goal of finishing in the top 10. When the scores were tallied and I discovered that we were 6th, I was beyond thrilled with what was clearly the best performance in team history.
But before we got back to the hotel, that never satisfied feeling started to kick in. I began saying to myself that if we were 6th this year, we should be shooting for top 5 next year. And by the time I got dressed for the evening festivities with the team, I convinced myself that since we should definitely be in the top 5 next year. While we are at it we might as well aim high and set our sights on the top 3. In other words, within hours of a result that was better than I thought the team could possibly accomplish, I was already worrying about doing better next year.
In the days since the meet, I’ve been able to reel myself in mentally, and I’m now focused on how proud I am of the women’s fantastic accomplishment this year. At the same time, I’m already planning to have the team prepared for an even greater performance next year.
Finding the proper balance between appreciating what you’ve done and striving to do more is hard, but then again, no one ever said distance running was supposed to be easy.