Sometimes in our running careers, we need to be a little bit gentler on ourselves – relaxing our often harsh, high standards of our own performance and quieting that little critical voice in our heads.
But other times, you need to take the complete opposite approach. If you’re stuck in a rut, if you’re lacking motivation, if your three-times-a-week running routine is getting just a little bit boring, the answer may be to not go easier on yourself – it may be to raise the bar for what you expect of yourself.
Raising the bar means radically shifting your expectations of your performance, from “good enough” to “excellence and beyond”. It means knowing you can do so much more than what you’re doing now – and keeping yourself accountable for actually doing it.
The best way to raise the bar is to set a goal that excites you.
How do you do that? Do not set a goal you know you can accomplish. If you run three times a week with a 12K long run on the weekends, don’t sign yourself up for a 15k race that’s five months away.
That will not keep you interested.
Instead, why not sign up for a 50K five months away.
Raising the bar means setting a goal that scares the crap out of you.
It doesn’t mean planning to do something you humanly cannot accomplish, but it needs to be somewhere at the outer edge of that boundary. Something you’ve always vaguely wanted to do, but never really thought you could. Because this is what will make your hair stand on end – and will make you scared, excited, and ready to work for it.
Of course, you can’t just sign up for an ultramarathon and expect to stay motivated throughout all the grueling workouts that follow. Setting the big, scary goal will give you the spark, and will keep you on your toes, providing motivation in moments when nothing else will.
But what will actually help you achieve the goal?
Giving yourself plenty of time to get there, and then laddering up milestones that all build on one another. This means setting smaller goals that are easy, beatable, and encouraging. To use our example of a runner whose big scary goal is a 50K, signing up for a 10K race a few weeks away would be a great first step. Then gradually increasing the long run distance a few miles at a time until comfortable. And so on.
Eventually, the small wins will ladder up to the big win – but the goal will not necessarily get less scary. And that’s important, because when you get tired of slow and steady progress, all you have to do is think about the big, challenging goal, and it will put you right back into that scared but excited mental space. It will give you that kick in the pants you need to raise the bar – and get right back to your training.
So try this for yourself: set a goal you’re not quite sure you can accomplish. Then – go forth and conquer the world.
Written by Varia Makagonova.