Looking Beyond the Race Result, By Hope McKenney

Photo Credit: Leah Snyder

“Success is a journey, not a destination. The doing is often more important than the outcome” (Arthur Ashe). After losing a track season and having a condensed cross country season in 2020, along with a reduced number of postseason qualifiers, we all had to look for success in places other than just our times and our finish places. Throughout my years as a middle school and high school runner, I learned that if you focus only on your performance result, you’ll likely see more lows than highs in your season. You have to look beyond your time and place.

The success of my season is not dependent on one race. On the day of the conference, district, or state meet, I know that I could wake up sick, the race could be canceled, or the conditions could prevent me from reaching my goal. This past track season, I was excited for the post-season to PR in the 3200, but the hot weather at the district meet and the cold and rainy weather at the state meet prevented me from a PR. I found other parts of my race to be excited about. Comparing how I felt at my track district race to how I felt at my cross country district race shows me that I am moving in the right direction with my training and gaining strength.

As I continued to train for Nationals, the COVID-19 protocol changed and I found out that I needed to get tested in Eugene. If I were to test positive, then I would not get the opportunity to race or show the results of my training until the fall. I was prepared for that to happen and knew whether or not I put down a fast time, that I was in good shape. I learned to focus more on how I felt in training, rather than the time I produced while racing. Thankfully, I tested negative, ran a 5k PR, and loved my experience at Nationals!

Earlier in my running career, during my freshman track season, I felt as if almost every race was perfect, as I kept running PR after PR and placing high in all my meets. Following that track season, I was under the wrong impression that cross country would go the same way, causing me to feel discouraged and frustrated after almost every race I ran. The only thing that I was doing wrong during that cross country season was looking at my season in a negative light. Shocking performances do not come everyday, but the hard work that brings such performances does. 

In order to put in the hard work at practice and perform well at meets, I know I have to feel confident in my training and in myself. I used to feel extremely nervous pre-race in middle school, to the point where I would never perform well in invitationals and hope for my races to be canceled. Now I line up at the start of each race smiling and excited for an opportunity to run. I think what changed my confidence was when I stopped basing my love for the sport on the time I ran and instead saw every race as another chance to experience the feeling of sprinting as hard as I can and pushing myself. 

I am not saying that it is not important to set time or place goals; they play a critical role in motivating all of us throughout our running careers. I am instead encouraging you to allow your goals to drive you to work hard in practice and become a better runner, rather than to define the success of your season.