Out There: Who Moved My Carrot?

Sometimes, a training plan without a goal race is just what a runner needs. Photo: www.shutterstock.com

Susan Lacke writes about running without a goal —until she realizes her goals are right in front of her.

I’m a “goal” person — the bigger, the better. I like to leap, trusting that the net will appear. Whether it’s earning a PR or qualifying for the Boston Marathon, I’m happiest with a carrot dangling in front of me.

But right now, I have no carrot.

After a disappointing performance at Ironman Arizona last November, I was ready to sign up for another event immediately. For many sleepless nights following the triathlon, I fidgeted in the blue glow of my computer screen, scanning course profiles and plotting out my comeback. Redemption would be mine!

My coach had other ideas, however. While I was barking and lunging at every ambition like a Chihuahua on espresso — 20-minute 5K! PR in the half marathon! Run an ultra! Boston! Pike’s Peak! — Coach Dude simply yawned and tugged back on the leash. If I wanted to stay under his tutelage, I had to do things his way. While my goal setting usually involves repeat visits to the intersection of “Hell” and “High Water,” Coach Dude proposed a different route.

“We’re going to focus on the process,” he said, “taking one step at a time, staying healthy and making incremental improvements every day.”

“But what’s the goal?” I whined impatiently.

“The goal is to be consistent.”

“That’s dumb.” I muttered under my breath. I needed an entry blank in my hands and a date circled in red on the calendar.

My impatience compounded when I received my first week of workouts. The instructions were devoid of minutes-per-mile, instead focusing on intangibles: Easy pace. 10K effort. Good form. I could feel the panic bubbling up in my brain. Effort? Easy? Form? Where were the blistering speed workouts that make me feel like vomiting? The mile splits I should strive to hit? Where was my carrot, dammit? I was convinced Coach Dude was punishing me for something. Still, I logged my workouts, hoping my obedience would lead to a race entry.

RELATED: The Athlete-Coach Relationship

For my first 10K effort run, I replaced “effort” with “desired 10K pace.” After 1,200 meters of trying to sustain a 7-minute mile, I blew up spectacularly.

During a hill workout, my knee started to hurt. After performing a systems check, I realized I wasn’t engaging my core at all. In my mind, my natural running form resembles something like a gazelle; in reality, I look like one of those inflatable wahoos outside a car dealership.

By the time my easy runs rolled around, I was exhausted. Still, pride outweighed fatigue. I stubbornly huffed and puffed my way through three miles, refusing to let the pace on my watch drop.

After yet another agitating run, I walked home with my tail between my legs and mentally composed the argument I’d lay out for Coach Dude: I need a race. I need something to train for. Consistency is not a goal. It’s a task, and a boring one at that. I need a carrot, dammit!

Suddenly, I stopped in my tracks.

Effort.

Easy.

Form.

Holy crap. Coach Dude put carrots right in front of my face, and I didn’t even see them. That sneaky bastard.

Sometimes, we get so caught up in the big picture that we forget the masterpiece is actually made up of tiny brushstrokes. My coach was focusing on the brushstrokes — good form, listening to my body’s cues, and proper recovery are all elements of good racing. Though the logical part of my brain knows all of this, it’s too frequently drowned out by the barks of my impulsive, hasty, caffeinated-Chihuahua brain.

RELATED: Understanding Your Natural Pace

As I write this, I’m currently in the middle of a do-over — after humbly admitting to Coach Dude that I did some idiotic things (which did not surprise him in the least), I asked if I could repeat the past two weeks of his plan. This time, I told him, I wanted to get it right — all of it. Even the boring stuff.

That’s how, for the first time since becoming a runner, I started a new year with a completely blank race calendar. I’m strangely OK with that. I trust Coach Dude to tell me when I’m ready to fill out an entry blank. In the meantime, the carrot in front of my face is to be the best runner I can be today — whether that means keeping my core tight for the duration of a hill workout or accepting that my 10K effort isn’t the same as my desired 10K pace. It’s OK. I’ll get there eventually. You know, consistency and all that.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a three-mile “easy” run to dominate. I think I’ll leave the watch at home …

****

About The Author:

Susan Lacke does 5Ks, Ironman Triathlons, and everything in between to justify her love for cupcakes (yes, she eats that many). In addition to writing for Competitor, she serves as Resident Triathlete for No Meat Athlete, a website dedicated to vegetarian endurance athletes. Susan lives and trains in Phoenix, Arizona with three animals: A labrador, a cattle dog, and a freakishly tall triathlete boyfriend. She claims to be of sound mind, though this has yet to be substantiated by a medical expert. Follow her on Twitter: @SusanLacke

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