You won't hit them all, but you might find out that's OK
Editor's Note: Lydia O'Donnell is a familiar name for TEMPO readers. Not only did Lydia captain our record breaking team at The Speed Project in 2019, she's an elite marathon runner from New Zealand who finished 20th at the New York Marathon in 2018, and finished 4th in the Melbourne Marathon. Lydia will soon head to Poland to represent New Zealand in the World Half Marathon Championships.
On top of this, Lydia is a multiple national champion on the track, co-founder of mental health run club One Step, and a run coach.
You can connect with Lydia here.
It is funny how we wait for a significant time, moment or experience in order to make a change, or to set a goal. How the routine of our year and the order we live our lives in is determined by the parameters of the calendar. Each month has a slightly different take on what we want to achieve, and every 365 days we set an end result that we want to see by year end.
Setting up goals is no doubt the best way to achieve those results. And I, like many runners I know, have always been one to set those goals in 12-month windows. But in 2019, through challenges that brought mental battles, I have learnt that it isn’t always necessary to work under the constraints of the calendar. That goals can be set, worked towards, achieved, or not, under your own personal timeframe. I have learnt that patience is not only a virtue, but a blessing, as progression is only achieved through consistency, and consistency is achieved over time.
I began 2019 with a number of goals. A set of times I wanted to run, a list of events I wanted to race, a specific marathon I wanted to qualify for. It was a year for me to go all in. To give it everything I had and go after the dream of running on the world stage. To represent my country and make my family and friends, and myself, proud. I gave myself the 12 months, 365 days, that was sitting ahead of me to achieve these goals.
Not all of these goals were accomplished. The biggest goal I set out to achieve was to qualify for the World Champs, and unfortunately it didn’t happen. As I hadn't even allowed the thought of failure to enter my mind, when it all fell apart, and I didn't cross the finishing line of the qualifying race, my world came crashing down (Ed - you can read about that particular race here).
"As I hadn't even allowed the thought of failure to enter my mind, when it all fell apart, and I didn't cross the finishing line of the qualifying race, my world came crashing down."
With my biggest goal of 2019 gone, it felt like my entire year to this point was wasted, forcing me to question running, question my purpose, and to question my life. Until that moment all I had thought about for my entire 2019 year was to be a World Champs representative.
The pressure of one goal bound my entire year into one moment. It consumed me to the point that, when it didn’t happen, my mental health suffered significantly. I have always been one to do things because they make me happy, but I was going against all of this and instead trying to achieve something that ultimately didn’t define me and definitely shouldn’t have defined my happiness. And on top of this, shouldn’t have represented my entire year of running.
"I have always been one to do things because they make me happy, but I was going against all of this and instead trying to achieve something that ultimately didn’t define me and definitely shouldn’t have defined my happiness."
At the time, I couldn’t see what was ahead. I had no idea that in just 4 weeks I would be winning the Sunshine Coast Marathon, or that I would run a PB at the Melbourne Marathon. I didn’t realize I would be breaking my half mara PB by 2 mins, or my 10,000m track time by nearly 50 seconds. And I had no idea that by the end of the year I would have qualified for the World Half Marathon Championships in Poland. These successful events and times that were not some that I had set as specific goals at the beginning of the year, became moments that have made me even more proud and more determined to continue training hard. And most importantly love what I do.
Not getting to the finish line at the Gold Coast Marathon and missing out on World Champs initially made me feel like a complete failure. That I wasn’t good enough. But missing out on one goal didn’t take me back to square one. It didn’t take away all the time, energy and effort I had put into the training. The gains in my fitness, strength and confidence that I had made throughout the 4 month build up came back to help me succeed in those later races and smash PBs by far more than I thought possible. Even though my focused goal wasn’t achieved, the pathway that I was on to that goal led me to greater results. Results that have taken me to new experiences and towards dreams that are yet to come.
As an athlete, the word ‘goal’ gets thrown around daily. “What is your next goal?” “What’s the goal time for that race?” “What is the goal distance for your long run?.” All runners love them because they determine the purpose of why we do what we do. And a new year is our favourite time to get the pen and paper out to write down what we are aiming to accomplish over the next 12 months. The 365 days that our goals and their achievement are bound to lie ahead with the pressure of getting one step closer each day.
"Missing out on one goal didn’t take me back to square one. It didn’t take away all the time, energy and effort I had put into the training."
My 2020 list of goals is slowly becoming apparent, but through the lessons I have learnt last year, my goals are not going to define my being. I am going to be present in the moment and enjoy each day of training, believing that whether or not the goal is achieved I am worth more than times, places and teams I make.
I have learnt that the goals I set are just the beginning of what can actually be achieved and that no time limit should be set on the pure joy of running. Be lenient on the goals you make for yourself in 2020, set these up for the purpose of structure but be open to being flexible. Don’t tie your worth to one goal, as you never know what is waiting around the corner.