Falling Short of Expectations.. and Rising to Meet Them

A look at expectations, how they break you down, and how you can make them your own.

By on February 22, 2012 | Comments

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.

Bryon Powell

Bryon Powell is the Founding Editor of iRunFar. He’s been writing about trail running, ultrarunning, and running gear for more than 15 years. Aside from iRunFar, he’s authored the books Relentless Forward Progress: A Guide to Running Ultramarathons and Where the Road Ends: A Guide to Trail Running, been a contributing editor at Trail Runner magazine, written for publications including Outside, Sierra, and Running Times, and coached ultrarunners of all abilities. Based in Silverton, Colorado, Bryon is an avid trail runner and ultrarunner who competes in events from the Hardrock 100 Mile just out his front door to races long and short around the world, that is, when he’s not fly fishing or tending to his garden.