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How do you define success in running?

Numbers aren't the only way to evaluate your performance in a race or workout

There’s no better feeling in running than setting a goal and achieving it, whether that goal is to run 5K without stopping or to set a new PB in the marathon. But what happens when you come up short of your goal? As runners, we tend to focus on the numbers to determine whether a workout or race was a success, but when we do this, we limit our thinking, potentially setting ourselves up for disappointment. The way you define success in running can have a significant impact on how you progress and how you bounce back from a less-than-stellar performance, so the next time you’re evaluating a workout or a race, consider these factors before marking it as a failure.

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Ask yourself: what did you do well?

So you didn’t snag that PB or hit your goal pace in your interval workout, but is there something else you did well that you can focus on instead? Perhaps you had a better finishing kick than usual, or you maintained a more consistent pace throughout your workout despite not having the best day. Sometimes, simply not allowing yourself to give up when you’re having a rough day is enough to be proud of.

After a bad race or workout, it’s worth asking yourself if the reason you didn’t hit your goal was because the goal was particularly ambitious, or you took a risk to achieve it. For example, perhaps you decided to start your half-marathon ahead of your goal pace, and you died in the last few kilometres. Sometimes, it’s better to push yourself and see what you’re capable of rather than playing it safe and wondering if you could have done more. It takes a certain amount of bravery to push yourself like that, and even if it didn’t work out in the end, you should be proud of yourself for trying.

Don’t just focus on the race

Remember that a single performance is not representative of your abilities as a runner or the progress you’ve made to this point. Sometimes, you could have one of the best, most consistent training blocks leading up to your race, but for whatever reason things don’t come together on the day. Don’t forget that regardless of the outcome, you can (and should) still celebrate the work that it took to get there. Running requires commitment, consistency and hard work, and not everyone is willing to make the sacrifices necessary to have success in the sport. As the common saying goes, “It’s the journey, not the destination,” and runners who focus on enjoying the process involved in training will be able to take small setbacks in stride, allowing them to bounce back quicker and achieve their goal the next time.

Don’t miss out on a learning experience

Failure is an excellent teacher, and if you didn’t achieve your goal, think about it as a learning opportunity rather than a total loss. When things don’t work out, the best athletes evaluate what went wrong, identify if there were any gaps in their training, and shift their focus to the next race or workout. Treating a disappointing performance in this way will not only help you move on quickly, but it will set you up for success at your next attempt.

Success in running cannot be defined in numbers alone, and so judging your performance solely based on the clock does a disservice to everything else that goes into the sport. Regardless of the outcome of any one race or workout, a little perspective to remind you how far you’ve come will help you move on from it and come back stronger.

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