Wise Running

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Slaying the Specter of a Bad Run

I had a horrible run yesterday and it was killing me.  Not during the run, mind you, but after the run.  During the run I was merely overtired and dehydrated.  That was bad enough, but this bad run was hanging over my head… calling me names…taunting…telling me that I was not good enough.  The hills were huge.  As I remembered the contours of each hill, they seemed to come alive, grimacing and laughing at me.

cross country shoesHow can one run haunt me so much so quickly?  Probably because I have chosen some lofty goals and a short timeline.  With all of that pressure, I had no time for a bad run.  Bad runs, however, are inevitable.  We can’t control all of the things that life throws at us and we are certainly prone to making mistakes.   Logically, this was not the end of the world, but it felt like it.

How did I slay the specter of the bad run?  I rested up for a day, I was well-fueled and hydrated, I set a realistic goal for today’s run, AND… most importantly, I set the course for today’s run in the toughest part of yesterday’s run.

I looked those grimacing hills straight in the eyes and shouted, “NO!  You will not win. I may not be as fast as I want to be, but I am on my way.  You will not win. ”

I did not set any new records today, but I did run a reasonably good time for course and conditions.  I faced the specter of doubt cast upon me by yesterday’s fiasco.

Tomorrow looks pretty darn good.

“Train smart, eat well, & enjoy the run!”  — P. Mark Taylor


Check out these books by P. Mark Taylor for more advice on running:


The Gift of Running: A Book for Runners & Future Runners  Wise Running Book COVER mockup


Wise Running: Thoughts on Running and Life

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.

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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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