Are you Running Towards your Goals or Away From Failure?


I’ve been chasing races for as long as I can remember. In high school and college I always had a race on the calendar. Early on my goals were simply to run my best race and leave it all out there. I worked really hard, but running came pretty easily. After running 4:04 in the mile,  I was the fastest returning miler in the country.  I think that is when my goals started to shift. I was on top. I got a really nice scholarship to run at The University of Texas, and I was pumped. I earned one of the highest scholarships (behind my friend Leo Manzano), and there was a lot of pressure to succeed. Unfortunately my goals and expectations shifted from running my best race to racing not to lose. I had high aspirations as a freshman, but they failed to materialized.  Looking back, I realize that some of the pressure was real and some was in my head, but I began to let others expectations (or what I thought were their expectations) change my focus.


I lost enjoyment for running quickly. I wasn’t competing well, and I was barely staying afloat! I wasn’t really enjoying anything to be honest. Running had come so naturally for me, and now it was super tough. Now the competition was significantly more challenging, and I was getting my butt beat. From that point on my success in running has been up and down. I had some really great races my sophomore and junior year, but I never got to the level other’s (and myself included) had predicted. I haven’t made the Olympics like I thought I could, or even the Olympic Trials for Pete's sake! Did I ever really believe I could do these things? I think so, but I also thought that it would just happen…. But it didn’t.

So I could just say all that was a big bust… Or was it? I did end up creating a pretty unique running community in Austin called Trail Roots that is cooler than anything I could have imagined. Yes I still have times I am disappointed that I didn’t reach certain levels in my running career, but I am also pretty stoked that I get to run everyday and work with awesome people. Running is not a big money sport, and I am fortunate to be able to be making a living at it. 
I still have aspirations to compete. I have run some pretty fast times. I have connected with a ton of really cool people, and running introduced me to my wife.  Now I have a baby boy to take care of and I still want to run fast! How do I manage my goals now?


Whenever I look back at old workouts or races, it is easy to feel defeated and hopeless. I am sure many of you do the same. How important are the actual goals vs the journey along the way? I don’t know the answer, and I’m sorry but I don’t know if there is an easy answer. When life changes, my training is likely to change and then what? Can I still be successful? Can I still have the same aspirations?
Creating goals are traditionally necessary to have a target, but does that have to be the “end all be all?” After listening to podcasts and going to counseling, I have begun to take steps to shift my thinking. I am working to use these goals as a guideline instead of set in stone. Traditionally I would say “If I don’t run this time” or, “if I don’t run this far then I suck (or I failed).”  Basically if I didn’t win, then I was unhappy. Whether it was realistic or not for me to win, if I didn’t meet that goal then I failed. It became black and white without me realizing it. 
Now I have started speaking to myself differently. I’ll say, “lets see how far I get in this workout," or “How fast can I run this interval?” When thinking about an upcoming marathon I plan to say, lets see how long I can hold x pace. I will have a loose plan, but not over focused on it. This means not focusing on the finish line before I get there, or worrying about how fast or slow the last mile was, but filling my thought with positive energy and running off of feel.
What is really cool about this way of thinking is it helps remove negativity (Lawdy knows I already have enough of that).  It brings you from thinking about the past and future to the present. This means less stress, less anxiety, and more freedom.


In just a short amount of time I have seen a difference in my running. I am able to push a little longer and harder because I am giving what I have to give in that moment or workout. I am not stressing (this is still a work in progress) that my pace is too slow or too fast and I am releasing the thoughts of “I’ll never be as fast as I should or want to be.” I am not ignoring the struggle by any means, but I also am not carrying along this whole story about why this, or why that, or why I can’t I do it. Keeping it simple can make all of the difference.
So when you are thinking about your next goal, maybe consider a slightly different approach. Its made me enjoy my training more, and I look forward to my next challenge. I hope you do too.

erik stanley