Do you ever set any goals? You should. This is the story of how I became a believer in writing down what I want to accomplish.
I ran track in college at a school called The University of Wisconsin Oshkosh. The day before each meet, Coach Zup, would always have a meeting with the distance runners. He would go over what events we were entered in and talk race strategy with us. During one meeting before an indoor track meet, I was told I was in the 1500 meter run. This is a race a little shorter than 1 mile. He also instructed me to write down our goals for the race.
My best time in the 1500 before this race was 4:09. Not fast, but not slow either. I told him my goal. “I want to run a fast enough time to qualify for the fast heat at indoor conference.” Coach told me I needed to be very specific, so I wrote down my splits. 63, 2:08 at the half, 3:14, 4:02. He then told me I had to make a move in the race, where I would pick one specific pint in the race where I would “go for it” so to speak. I wrote down “Go for the win and the half if near the lead.”
The next day comes. Race Day. I memorize my splits. 63, 2:08, 3:14, 4:02. I even share this with my teammates along with my race plan. As an added bonus, no dominant runners are in the race. The field as they say is wide open. If there is any collegiate race where I have a chance to win, this is it. There is only one problem, I feel awful. My legs are heavy and uncoordinated. It is as if I have never ran in my life. During warm ups and stretching, I try to snap out of it and get some spring in my step, but nothing works. I decide to stick to the plan regardless of how I feel. I already told everyone what I want to do. No turning back now.
The race official calls us to the start line, and about 12 runners line up on the backstretch. Time for 7 ½ laps of fury on the 200 meter indoor track. The gun goes up. “Runners to your marks. SET…. BANG!” We’re off. The pace is quick, but no one runs away with it. I manage to settle behind three lead runners on the inside lane. A teammate runs right on my shoulder and we are able to run fast but smooth through the first lap, but the initial buzz of adrenaline wears off.
My whole body aches. It’s a struggle to maintain pace behind the leaders. “You’re tough as nails. Suck it up” I repeat over and over in my head. Lap two is coming to a close. The timer shouts “62, 63, 64!” as the pack glides by.
Remarkably I’m on pace. This doesn’t give me hope as I know how brutal a 1500 can become. Getting out quick is one thing. Closing out a race is entirely another. I hold my inside position behind the leaders. Lap three goes by. My vision blurs and my lungs burn with each gasp. I lie to myself. “everyone feels this way.” I repeat my mantra “Tough as nails. Suck it up.”
My teammate fades as I hang on. I approach the 800 meter mark. Half Mile. The timer shouts 2:08, 2:09. I realize I’m right on pace. Lap four down. It’s time to make a move. Physically, I feel like death warmed over, but it’s now or never. I take an opening and swing wide. I pump my arms, drive my knees. And move to the front.
None of the leaders react. I pass them and now lead the race. I know this burst can’t last, but I keep pushing and digging. Three laps to go. I have to bury those runners.
My legs burn in agony. My blood boils. I keep pushing forward, leaning forward, racing forward. “Tough as nails. Suck it up.” Two laps to go. Still in the lead. No one is running with me.
This is where the kickers start to go. Where are they? 1 ½ laps to go. The timer shouts but I can’t make out what he says. I start to lose feeling in my feet. Muscles scream with each stride. Where’s the next gear? I’ve got to find it! It’s time to kick.
The bell rings. One lap to go. A runner passes me like a shot. I can’t respond. Find that gear! My teammate rolls up on my shoulder. Drive your arms. Put your head down. Half lap to go. Find that kick! Hold the inside lane. Two more runners swing wide. We round the turn. Final stretch. Four runners wide. I’ve got it. I surge. My legs. Can’t feel them. Here comes the line. Lean!
It’s over. I wobble off the track. To my disbelief, I held onto second place. I find a quiet corner in the gym and lean against the wall. My vision is blurred. My legs feel like rubber. The wall is cold. I smile. I ran as fast as I could. I left it all out on the track.
A few minutes after this race was over, my coach found me leaning against the wall. He was with my teammate who shouted, “You really took the bull by the horns man. That was awesome!”
Coach Zup hands me a piece of paper. It was the goal sheet from the day before. “Do you see those splits?” he asked.
“Yeah,” I said.
“Those are the exact same splits you ran today. Amazing! Great job.”
My teammate put his arm around my shoulder. We went for a cool down jog. I have never felt worse after a race than that day, but I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face.That time qualified me for the fast heat at conference, and I finished in 4th place in the finals. I outkicked an all American runner from LaCrosse and three all Americans finished in front of me. I had a great outdoor season too, to close out my senior her.
That one race was the turning point for me, but not just for running. It was a turning point in my life. My collegiate running days came and went, but that doesn’t mean I stopped writing down goals. I set goals for my teaching career, for making YouTube videos like this one, and for the occasional road race. This past summer I won a local 5k race, and also ran my first ½ marathon.
Now I ask you. What do you want to accomplish in life? What goal do you have that you have been thinking about but haven’t attempted to achieve? Setting goals gives you a purpose. It gives you something to work towards. It’s like the beginning of a great journey. That’s the moral of this week’s story. I haven’t accomplished every goal I set, but I found that the journey towards trying to reach that goal is often more rewarding than the goal itself. Write down your goals. Start your own journey right now.