Falling Short of Expectations.. and Rising to Meet Them

Expectations are a funny thing. They can help us grow and build. On the other hand, they can break our will and stifle our inertia. They can fill us with excitement and hope, while just as readily serving to sadden and discourage us.

Personally, I’m fortunate to be talking only about self-imposed expectations. I’ve never been in a situation where I was readily moved by others’ expectations. Yes, individuals encourage or discourage me, but never really through anything more than indirect means. I suppose that few have the power to impose meaningful expectations as one’s parents and mine were always supportive in letting me go for my own goals be it choosing a college, switching majors, or quitting the legal profession to work on iRunFar full-time.

So, for me, that leaves myself as the only person to thank or to blame for setting any expectations… and I certainly do set them.

For example, as 2011 rolled into 2012, I set the expectation that I would publish an original story on iRunFar every weekday through 2012. That felt ambitious as it’d been work enough publishing iRunFar on a three-days-per-week schedule for the past few years and nothing significant was leaving my already overfull work plate. Through the better part of two months, that expectation has helped me raise my own personal bar as well as that of iRunFar to a new level. At times, I had to struggle, to reach, to fight to make it, but I always did. That’s what’s happening tonight.

Today, as is often the case, life happened. A memorable day-long visit from a favorite uncle and five frustrating hours of re-correcting an inept collaborator’s (no one here at iRunFar) sloop left me sitting down at my computer at 10 p.m. without an article for tomorrow… or even an idea for one. A quick perusal of my idea lists didn’t yield anything that I could manage this evening. I felt inadequate and let down, by myself. Dread and powerlessness swept over me. I briefly considered throwing in the towel by writing nothing at all.

All these negative emotions arose from my thinking that I wouldn’t meet my own expectations.

I sat and thought for a few minutes. What else was going on in my head? Then it hit me. I felt the same about the run I’d yet to log today and my dismal running the past two weeks. Both stemmed from expectations that I’d engineered to be helpful, but that were, for the time being, sore points at best.

Although I’ve loved running most of my life, not running on a given day, especially when life intervenes, has never really given me any cause for concern. However, as 2012 dawned I looked to change that both to provide a new journey and to hopefully improvement my fitness. How? By streaking through at least my focus race, the Leadville 100 in August. I’m normally respectfully resistant to the concept of daily run streaks over long periods, but, as an experiment, I wanted to remove the “not run” option from my mental catalog for eight months. I’ve had a handful of very marginal “runs” so far this year, but every day I’ve purposefully broken into stride and freed my feet from the earth for at least a bit. Two hours ago, the expectation that I’d run was burdensome. I still had to write for iRunFar along with a couple additional hours of other work. A bit of forlornness and powerlessness crept in to keep my lil’ burden company in my head.

Back up a couple days to when I skipped running the Red Hot Moab 33k because I messed up something in my abdominal area in the week prior to the race. It’s the high, er… low point of what’s been at least two weeks of piss poor running on my part. I’ve been unmotivated, fatigued, occasionally on the edge of illness, and, for at least a week, in pain when I tried to run. Aside from weekly mileages that I hope to never add up, I’ve missed Red Hot, failed to run long last week, and will be skipping my second straight weekly track workout on Wednesday. (Sorry, Christian!)

As with individual training days, I’ve always had a pretty good head on my shoulders about letting my running ebb and flow on a larger scale with little worry. This year, I’ve given myself something that I’ve not had in a long time, a lofty running goal. More, specifically, running sub-19 hours at the Leadville 100. As that’s a smidge less than an hour faster than my fastest Leadville, I know I’ve got to train my butt off in a very specific way, especially not having trained at any level worth noting since last July.

I didn’t write out a schedule for myself. Never have. Probably never will. That said, as I quickly approach my 20th anniversary of running this August, I can formulate long-term, broad-stroke plans in my head, which is exactly what I did a couple months back. Now, only seven weeks into 2012, I find myself still looking at a very blank canvas. That most certainly fills me with dread. I loathe the fact that I’ve not put the time, miles, and effort to date and can only stare, disbelieving, into the future. How can things have gone so wrong in so little time and how can it seem so impossible to meet my far-off expectations? Irrationality. That’s the little nugget I unearthed two hours ago. Don’t let irrationality regarding an expectation, past or future, met or unmet, self-imposed or externally implemented, own you in the moment. Irrational thoughts are where the darkness, fear, powerlessness, anxiety, and all the other demons reside. They’re imaginary.

In the end, I wrote my article in two hours and grew in the process. I’ve got my shoes on and still have 16 minutes to head out the door before midnight. As for Leadville, I haven’t a clue whether I can break 19 hours there in 6 months. I can’t know. That’s the point and that’s why it’s ridiculous to worry about it. For now, all I can do is collect myself, reassess my plan, make the necessary adjustments, and get back after it.

* * * * *

While, perhaps, this is article isn’t going to win any awards… not even with the ranks of iRunFar pieces, and, maybe, it’d be better saved for the pages of my non-existent diary, I’ve enjoyed exploring the subject. We runners are, too, human. With that, a bit of introspection just might yield benefits for our running if we can figure out how to better manage/focus/appreciate our psyches. I’ve never been one to contemplate running on a higher level, but maybe AJW is onto something with all his philosophizing.

However, it’s time for me to put that, and this article, aside. It’s time to schedule this article’s publication and head out for that daily run. Thanks, expectations, for getting me typing and getting me out the door for a run. May we meet again at 6th and Harrison at 10:59 p.m. on August 18.

There are 41 comments

  1. solarweasel

    A great, frank post by ya, Goat. Don't get too wrapped up in expectations — whether they've been places upon you by yourself or others.

    I, for one, am happy to have committed to fewer races this year, so I can spend more physical and mental energy focused on the fun, expectation-less runs I plan to do.

    The Rubys call us…

  2. Jim

    Man…thanks for speaking what I was feeling this past week. I know I havent been the only one out there. To be sort of lost in thoughts and where my runs/training are going in preparing for races and life. Although not living near good trails/mtns doesn't help either at least I can put 1 foot in front of the other and see where it goes.

  3. Michael Owen

    Bryon, good piece. When it comes too a schedule, you're probably best for not having one written out. I do. I literally planned out mileage for every single day from October 10th – June 23rd… I'm through 18 weeks so far. But when making such a schedule, I have found that when something arises that prevents you from sticking to the schedule, whatever reason it may be (especially injuries), your confidence and psyche sort of diminishes (at least for me). Almost like setting yourself up for failure. The best thing for training would probably be, like you said, "letting my running ebb and flow on a larger scale with little worry."

    Still there should be a certain level of self-expectations, as in life. Streaks are a really challenging but rewarding expectation. Just need to be highly adaptable within that time period.

  4. Christian Johnson

    Great post Bryon. You are personally driven and that's what makes you successful. I've also been feeling a bit like I'm not meeting my own expectations lately but it's February. Time is on our side. Heal up, I'll make sure lane 1 is clear next week :)

  5. Trail Clown

    I set a goal to Streak for all of 2012, and made it to January 29…so, pretty epic failure, but at least February's runs have been a lot more fun now that the pressure is off :) I've decided not to start another Streak until next January 1st (and try to get to February next time!)

  6. Frenchy

    I, too, have felt this way. No motivation other than to sit on the couch, eat, and watch TV. Seeing my running shoes by the door did nothing to enhance my enthusiasm. Life happens. The running bug does come back. Give it time.

  7. Anonymous

    Nicely put Bryon.

    I've been having similar feelings in the last 2 weeks and your thoughts help with getting some clarity on the way forward.


  8. Jamie Falk

    Great post. This is something I think a lot of us struggle with, and it's oddly comforting to know others have the same thoughts.

    I had a pretty epic streak failure this year too. Made it two whole weeks before I listened to my body and started taking occasional rest days.

  9. AJW

    Bryon, great article. Thanks for sharing it. Perhaps the editor of irunfar will ask you to write a guest column for that Friday drivel:)

  10. Chris

    I agree w/ the other comments….a major difference between you and many of us, is that you were not willing to hide behind a couple of sub-par weeks. Rather, you are embracing it for what it is…life handing a you a new challenge. Now the hard part is moving on and meeting the challenge without making it a major set back.

  11. Steve Pero

    Great, honest post, Bryon. I sent you a personal email going into more detail, but all you really need to do is chill and realize that life is short. That 19 hour time means nothing, it's what you did then and shouldn't put more stress on you, but it is doing that and is being counterproductive.

    I have lofty goals this year as a 60 year old, of an ultra race every month leading up to Hardrock, using them as stepping stones. Only one of these is important to run as fast as I can at (2.5 months before Hardrock), the rest are relaxed long training runs with some friends.

    I also think streaks are nuts…my policy in training is to do as much as I can every day without sacrificing family, work and health. I run every day so that when I can't I don't worry about it.

    Best of luck in returning to health and fitness, you just might run your best time at Leadville with this attitude! :-)

  12. Fernando N. Baeza


    Thank you for surmising the process of how you forsee, forego, and accomplish your expectations. This website, and Im certain I not only speak for myself, is the go to site for me, for anything ultra–period! I especially appreciate all the hard work you and your irunfar staff expend, to portray the race experience live, the shoe reviews, which are great!, the race reports and all the cool gear thats new and some yet to come! I work in internal medicine, and my idea of down time during the day is coming to this website and reading all the current articles and past, and getting one heck of a high putting aside all my mental stress aside. Two or three articles a week would appear hard as is, but you and AJW, et al., have made this website awesome! Keep up the good work! Its paid off! We all apreciate the hard work Bryan!

  13. Chris U

    I'm glad you wrote this Bryon, and glad that you were able to learn in the process.

    On the subject of schedules: I'm not one for setting a rigid life for myself, far from it – I like to feel the freedom of spur of the moment decision making, it feels good for the soul. However, having followed my first marathon schedule last year I really appreciated that it got me out of the door without all the procrastination and deliberating over where and how far to run.

    That said, not listening with ones inner ear – listening to your own body – is a recipe for injury. Take a break or slow down, you'll give yourself more chance to come back stronger!

  14. OOJ

    A salient article, indeed: life and running balance, and balancing desire, expectation and reality. A daily struggle for most of us — or at least something we all must deal with, if we're to maximize our potential

  15. Mick

    Great article. As with the others who have commented, it's nice to hear folks more experienced dealing with the same issues. Breaking away from the structure that distracts us from enjoying the sport we love is not an easy task. Every once in a while I have to remind myself to stop for a second and look around and appreciate the trail, and the way the sun breaks through the crisp air instead of dwelling on a blown run or less than stellar performance/motivation.

  16. Mike Place

    I remember this one guy who felt this way sometime last year and then busted out a sub-20 at Western States.

    Who was that masked man?!

    Keep your chin up, sir. Spring will be here soon and the Wasatch will be open for business!

    Leadville won't know what hit it.

  17. Trail Clown

    You know, the more I re-read this post, I think you may be having a true mid-life crisis :). Might be time to go back to the lawyer gig, start a family, buy a big house, and give away all the running shoes.

  18. Mark Forehand

    Wow. Seems like February is working its magic on the majority of us, coming out of winter, just itching to do what we love to do and can't seem to get out the door.

    Nice article about something we all feel and I for one am having the same feeling.

  19. Harold

    We are only human afterall. This year I have had the same types of trials to get past. Expectations are, well, expected, right? I think that is the problem – there is always some kind of expectation whether self imposed or not. Personally I think those that are self imposed are by far the hardest to deal with. One cannot dwell on the failure to meet them but rather should focus on moving forward at the very least. Like as you said, life happens, so just chalk it up to that and keep on rolling! Great post and keep the good work flowing :)!

  20. Brandon Baker


    Coming from the background of quite possibly the most regimented type A group of athletes ever (road cyclists) I have never felt so free going for a "training run", especially when going Anton style- but alas, the expectation still seems to creep in- crush it, and run up the silly mountain, and smile all-the-while- 'cause we have two legs and we can explore some of the most amazing terrain God created- It seems all of us westerners are short on time, that I have no anecdote for- but when it comes to "expectations", whether they be career, personal, relational, or sport based- let 'em all go.

    If it doesn't feel like freedom, it doesn't belong!!

  21. Vermonter

    Its funny, I was thinking along the same lines this morning. I mentioned a running goal of mine to a co worker and I was having trouble explaining my sanity, my motivation and my doubts. I sometimes think that ultra runners are Gods, look at what they have accomplished! Being Human is doubting, failing and still trying anyways; and sometimes succeeding beyond our expectations. We try anyways and find ourselves, somehow actually doing it. So, whether or not we meet our goals I think the important part is at least having a goal and always trying. Keep on keepin on man.

  22. Stephen Sherwood

    Great article! This is what sets the great runners from the middle or back of packers. Can we all run sub 20 at Leadville? Maybe so, but life gets in the way and our voices in our heads talk to us and gives us reason why not to run! The runners who can talk back to their voices and continue to put miles on their legs get stronger and leave myself on the dusty trail! Thanks for putting this into perspective another great article and yes I did talk back to my voices and went for a run after reading this.

  23. CJ

    Great article Bryon! Real & authentic. Those ingredients will always be popular among human beings, and more specifically, we runners. All of us can relate in one way or another to what you've shared.

    Regarding irrationality, that's why I always have a "lofty" goal that I know will take an extra special day (Oh, the sweet rewards) and a more reasonable goal I know I should achieve based on my training. Needless to say, I've set a pretty lofty (er, irrational) goal for the Pike's Peak Ascent…also August 18. May we both taste of that sweet nectar :-)


  24. Walter

    Thanks for a great article. It seems like many of us have hit this point at some time this winter. The future is clearer once you eliminate the fear of uncertainty. The rest you've had the past 2 weeks may prove to help in the long run. You don't seem like someone who will dwell on it. Keep moving forward!

  25. Rob Digga

    people keep mentioning winter. i ran shirtless today in 70 degree weather and will do the same tmrw. winter splinter!

    great article Bryon.

    Rob in Marin

  26. Andy

    Thanks for sharing the personal and psychological side of running. As a psychologist and ultrarunner (much better, frankly, at the former), there is a lot of positive psychology to be applied to — and gained from — ultrarunning. I could wax for hours about the ultrarunning metaphors for life, but suffice it to say that managing expectations is critical if were to deal effectively with both. Balancing long- and short-term goals with flexibility is where it's at, always re-adjusting the bar as needed. After all, the real goal (at least in running and maybe in life) is to have a blast and not hurt anybody (else), right? Great work, Bryon. Thanks.

  27. zeke

    My only expectations are to stay healthy by not running too much, run everyday that life allows me to, race smart, and have fun!!! It's a recipe that helped me go sub 19 at lb. Streaks work for some people but my life (family and career) and body can't afford them. The key for me.is to keep running and racing fun above all else. See you in August.

  28. Will T.

    Best article to come throug iRunFar in awhile. So great to see another view inside Bryon Powell, iRunFar & most importantly gives us other runners a chance to look internally at ourselves. Thanks!

  29. Jeff Faulkner

    I set some lofty goals for myself this year also and they were derailed almost immediately. My father passed away 2 weeks ago and a major career/location change is occurring. Now I'm left with comforting my family over the loss of my father, trying to manage a family move that will occur in 2 phases, and finding a new 100 miler closer to where I'm moving (Orlando, FL).

    Hmmm, and I thought my first set of goals was lofty… 2012 is going to be one for the record books.

  30. norm armstrong

    Sitting here feeling like the year is already slipping away, and I am nowhere near where I "want" or "thought" I would be by now. I am somehow inspired by your refreshingly honest post. I might actually get out there today and call 2012 a start over.

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