Goal Setting and Mindset During COVID, by Stephen Schousen (6-11-2020)

Stephen Schousen, JP McCaskey (2019 Carlisle Invitational)

Hello everyone,

One of the most important skills I’ve learned this year is on-the-fly goal adjustment, and it’s a skill that’s come in handy during the Covid-19 pandemic. Most runners I know have goals—times, places, qualifying for a certain meet. Goals are important to keep us motivated. Running, however, is nothing if not unpredictable. Injuries, weather, or even a slip could cause you to fall short, and that’s just how it is. 

I used to view my goals as concrete. I believed that nothing, no matter how severe, should prevent me me from accomplishing them. That attitude turned out to be incredibly counterproductive, as I spent more time wallowing in self-pity than I did working to improve. Instead, I adopted a more flexible mindset. Last fall, I had big plans for the postseason. Unfortunately, I came down with a nasty virus right before the league meet. I had to scratch, and I was sick all the way through the state meet. The day of districts, I told myself to forget about the goals I had set at the beginning of the season—I just wanted to finish the race. Thankfully, I made it to the end and, although my 12th-place finish wasn’t what I had been hoping for, I was still really proud of myself and my run. I applied the same strategy to the state meet to similar effect. In the end, this approach proved to be helpful. Had I given up, realizing a top finish at districts was out of the question, I would’ve missed out on an opportunity to attend the state meet, where I had a lot of fun and learned a few valuable lessons that will hopefully prove useful next year. 

I’ve applied the same mindset to my quarantine training, and it has really helped me make the best of a bad situation. When the spring season was cancelled, I was heartbroken. I had been hoping to put down some fast times to help with the college recruiting process and was aiming for a sub-9:30 3200. I was really confident, but I realized early on that I wasn’t going to run that fast in a solo time trial. Instead, I shifted my focus to working on my confidence in pacing. I’ve never felt comfortable taking the lead in a race, and I’ve never had to pace workouts because my teammate, Alex Miller, loves to pace and is usually dead on. My hesitation to take the lead has hurt my racing, so I devoted my spring to improving my pacing skills. I slowly felt more confident pacing myself, and I even managed to solo a 15:38 5k on the track, which was surprisingly close to a PR for a solo time trial. This newfound confidence in pacing will undoubtedly help when fall racing begins and, while I technically didn’t have a “season” and I didn’t hit my original time goal, I did gain a valuable skill and improve as a runner, which is ultimately something to be proud of.

In our sport, things rarely unfold according to plan. Conditions will never be perfect, and disappointment is inevitable. However, if you don’t dwell on the all the things that go wrong and instead figure out how to persevere in less than ideal circumstances, you’ll keep growing as a runner and have a more rewarding experience. Use the challenges you face as motivation, and remember that goals you set in a better moment may not be feasible in the present, and that’s not your fault. 

I hope everyone’s staying healthy and running fast. XC is going to be here before you know it, so keep grinding.