Expectation has popped up so much lately in the conversations I’ve had with fellow triathletes that I feel compelled to write about it.
It must be the time of year. Winter training is coming to a close and race dates are creeping closer. The shadow of reality has begun to darken those secret dreams we have about ideal times and podium finishes.
And the reality is: training is hard. It’s also extremely time-consuming. Finding a balance between training and work/life/family is tricky. Ironman has a tendency to take over everything. Yet it isn’t possible to make your sport the number one priority in your life unless you happen to be either independently wealthy or a pro athlete—which means, you might not qualify for Kona, or Worlds, or whatever your dream happens to be.
I’ve always been a believer in dreaming big, so I happen to not be a huge fan of reality. But when it comes to training, I think there’s an important dance that needs to be going on between dreaming big and keeping both feet on the ground.
Expectation can mess with a person. It can make you train harder than you should, because you want so badly to make those times you think you should be capable of making. While this kind of striving is great, on the one hand—it makes you a better athlete—it can also make you an injured athlete. How do I know this? Hmm, let’s see. Two months off running because of an Achilles injury that was no doubt caused by SOMEONE pushing harder than they should have . . . . Yeah. Expectation is messy.
However, expectation is often part of the personality of an athlete. It’s probably the reason you started racing in the first place. It’s what gets you up at 5 AM to run, or gets you on the bike at 8 PM after a long day of work. Without it, you wouldn’t make it to the start line, never mind the finish line.
So, we need expectation. But we also need to find a way to keep it under control.
I hate to come back to Buddhism because it makes me sound way more chill about all of this than I actually am, but the Buddhists seem to get certain things right in this world. They have this idea about not holding onto stuff too tightly—and it feels appropriate here. Give everything of yourself while you’re doing whatever it is you’re doing, but then let go of it when it’s done. Meaning, train hard, but don’t obsess over it during the other times in your life. But I think it also means: don’t impose expectations, which are future-oriented, on the present reality of your physical capabilities.
This is 100% a ‘do as I say, not as I do’ situation. I haven’t found a way to master this. I have to remind myself repeatedly that I have a life, and Ironman is only one part of it. I also have to remind myself that regardless of how fast I think I could be, if I train at that level I will hurt myself.
It makes me very uncomfortable to tell anyone, myself included, to adjust their expectations. High expectation is the fuel that keeps us all going. I don’t want to hear that I should be okay with finishing at 16:59, or not finishing at all. I refuse to go into a race with that mindset, even if it means I might be disappointed.
I don’t care much about risking disappointment, but I do care about risking injury. That is a legitimate concern, and it’s an important reason to try, however reluctantly, to keep at least one toe in reality.
On that note, here is my run on Sunday. Yes, an actual run, outside. Slow as molasses: one minute jog, one minute walk. Ugh. But . . . I ran. And it didn’t hurt. I made a sweeping declaration to one of my sons this past weekend that I will no longer do anything stupid in my training. Let’s see how long that lasts 😉