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Expectations and our Running

When we expect, we hold a strong belief that something will happen or should have happened. We expect a lot of ourselves, and none more so when it comes to endurance sports and our running.


When we feel the weight of our expectations, they become a burden and don’t allow us to reach our full potential


How do we talk to ourselves? What does the language of expectations sound like? How does it feel when they weight you down?


Understanding the language we use when we create expectations for ourselves can help us spot when they happen. Expectation language uses a lot of should and should not, have and have not:

I should be running quicker than last year

I need to be as fast as my training partner

I should not take a rest day

I have to train better

Whenever we speak to ourselves this way, we set ourselves up against something we have created in our mind. We attach a lot of worth to this expected outcome.


What is it like when we let our expectations weigh us down?


You have a run to do, perhaps the same big session as a few weeks ago, or one your friend has just completed.


You come back from a run and immediately check out the numbers: the miles cover, the speed it was done at.


Did I run the same (or better) this time? If not, what does that mean – am I going backwards as an athlete? If I’m not getting fitter, what’s the point?


Why was that mile 5 seconds slower than the one before?


I didn’t even hit 14 miles. I’m a failure. Last week I did almost 15.


This way of thinking makes you miserable about your running. It can fill you with dread about sessions. In the worst case is it’ll paralyse you with fear about going out for that run, so afraid we won’t hit these targets we’ve set ourselves we don’t do it.


When we hold an expectation for ourselves, we create a tension between who we are as an athlete and who we think we should be. There’s an inherent conflict here. It becomes then hard to accept who we are and where we are with our running. If you can learn to be comfortable with who you are in relation to your sports, that will flow to other areas of your life, and you’ll gain a more genuine sense of who you are.


Expectations can be good


Expectations can help drive our training forwards. They can be a force for good. If we want to get quicker, we have to train. There are no shortcuts.


The expectations we place on ourselves are great, as long as they don’t become a burden. Finding that sweet spot isn’t easy. But it is possible.


Running through expectations


If you struggle with expectations, I’ve put together a few ideas on how you can start to play with them. These worked for me, and hopefully, you’ll find some help here.


The process of writing down how you are feeling, talking about it either to a friend or a coach can give you some space to hear and think about what you are saying. If you let words and thoughts just roll around in your head, they get louder and louder and drown out everything else. The opportunity to examine the validity of these thoughts is paramount. Often you’ll see then that you’ve been tough and unrealistic on yourself.


If you do tend to expect a lot from yourself, you don’t need to toil away on your own. You’ll want to engage your coach or a trusted friend in helping work with you. If you keep doing the same sessions every few weeks, then the temptation to compare them is always there, and naturally, you will scratch that itch. Sessions should be creative and different enough that you don’t get too many opportunities to do that.


Try and see the bigger picture of your training, and that one training session doesn’t define you as a runner. Endurance is built over months of consistent work and not one run. Variations are typical in performance from day to day.


Each session is different. We are never the same person going into each session. It would be very unfair to expect the same results from what is a very different situation.


We are more than any number you set yourself. Expectations can limit us too, stopping us, achieving from what we can. I want you to stop defining yourself by outcomes and instead see the value is you showing up for yourself with your training each day.