Wise Running

Train smart, eat well, and enjoy the run.

Wise Running: Fighting the Complacency Monster



I am 46 years old and I just ran a 5:25 mile on slight rolling hills.

That’s pretty good, right?

How did I feel after the race?

Like somebody just shot my dog.  I felt horrible.

What is wrong with my perspective? 

The short answer is that I am fighting the complacency monster.  I would like to blame my performance today on my gluten intolerance issues, but that was not it.  Physically, I was capable of running a 5:15 mile today.  The problem was mental.  The problem was the complacency monster.  The problem was me.

dash (2)

What started me down this path to complacency?  I set high goals and didn’t come anywhere near them.  I have been frustrated for months by little nagging issues with gluten, aches, and pains.  None of them were of a factor at all today, but they did feed the complacency monster in the months leading up to today’s race.  When I planned this year’s training and racing goals, I set my sites on a 5 minute mile.  I have managed to do some pretty good training towards that goal, but not as much as I had planned.  Minor gluten issues periodically kept holding me back from getting as much training as I needed to accomplish that goal.  Gluten was not a factor at all today.  It does not excuse today’s complacency.  It just set me up for it.

I did the smart thing and restructured my goals for today’s race.  I originally wanted a 5 minute mile.  After everything that happened this summer, I decided that finishing between 5:10 and 5:15 would be very good for the circumstances.  With that mindset, I started today’s race exactly the way I should have.  I settled in behind the leaders that were aiming around 5:00.  As I crossed the halfway point, I was still in good enough shape to finish at 5:15 if I had just kicked it up a notch.  But I didn’t.  I kept a comfortable pace and managed to average a 5:25 mile pace and the 3/4 mile mark.  I rationalized that I was saving up for a strong last 1/4 mile.  This would have been practical.  My training and racing this summer told me that I am fully capable of shaving 10 seconds off in the last 1/4 mile.  I can do that.  I could have done it today.  I didn’t.  I was complacent.

What happened?  I could have met my restructured goal of 5:15 by pushing hard in the 1/4 mile.  I was not too tired/fatigued.  Why did I not follow through?  I was complacent.  I looked ahead and decided who I could catch if I kicked it into high gear.  I did not do it.  Why did I not follow through?  I was complacent.  Why?

I smiled and congratulated my fellow runners.  I cheered for Muna as she beat her goal by ten seconds.  I talked to friends.  In the back of my mind, however, I was busy beating myself up for not following through, for not sprinting the last 1/4 mile.  Why did I not do it?  Why did I settle for less than my best effort?  Why was I complacent?  I was tortured.

I volunteered to clean up after the race, so I stayed around and helped out.  I kept smiling when I could, but… I was tortured.  Why was I complacent?  Why did I settle for less than my best?

The Underlying Problem

It took me a while to sort it out.  I drove home, got some food, took a shower… Finally it hit me; it hit me hard.  It did not feel like it was worth an all-out effort to run a 5:15 mile because it was 15 seconds slower than what I had originally planned.  I didn’t want a 5:15.  I wanted a 5:00.  I know it sounds crazy to most people, but a 5:15 mile would not have felt like an accomplishment.  It would have felt like a failure.  Why would I put that much effort into a failing cause?

This is what happened:  I had mentally chosen a 5:15 goal, but emotionally I was holding on to the 5:00 dream.  My heart was not willing to push incredibly hard just to get  5:15 and feel inadequate anyway.

This explains the why, but it is definitely not a healthy mindset.  Giving less than your best in a goal race is not acceptable, even if you will fall short of your original goal.  If I had understood what was going on, perhaps I could have given myself the “”Suck it up, Buttercup!” speech and pushed through to that 5:15.  Hindsight is 20/20.  I did not have access to that info during the race.  I had to analyze for a while to understand the source.

Remember This:

Complacency is often rooted in fear of failure. 
As with all fears, the only way to get over it is to face your fear head-on.
Feel the fear and do it anyway.

I was not afraid of failing to achieve 5:15.  I was afraid to work that hard and still be 15 seconds shy of the goal that my heart was set on.

At least I now understand what happened.  Now I can deal with it.  I can learn from it and become a wiser runner.  🙂

I will fight complacency:

  • by recognizing it,
  • by acknowledging the underlying problem, and
  • by running with passion regardless of the expected outcome.


On the Bright Side

The good news is this:  I can have a flat, unmotivated race and still run a 5:25 mile.

I am still fast.  Not as fast as I wanted to be, but faster than I was last year.

I am still making progress.

There is reason to celebrate.

Ice cream for everyone!


Train smart, eat well, and enjoy the run!

P. Mark Taylor

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One response to “Wise Running: Fighting the Complacency Monster

  1. Harold L. Shaw September 2, 2013 at 5:56 pm

    Congratulations on a few things: the first taking the time to review your race, dissect it and figure out what you actually did, versus what you wanted to do. That is a huge step that most runners do not do enough of. Second being honest with yourself. Finally, congratulations on a great time and not being satisfied with that time.

    Take the lessons learned and work to improve it next year. 🙂

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