Anjana Mohan, a marathon runner asks the question – what if continuous improvement is not infinite?
You’ve trained hard, worked relentlessly, found your personal balances, and you’ve just run your best race. Congratulations, you did it! Your work paid off. If you are the majority, the automatic subtext is that “next time”, you will aim to somehow improve on this “best”. For a select minority, you may envision shifting gears and trying out something new.
If you are among the first group that seeks the next threshold, your task is to identify your next goal. Some people like to do that overtly, and some like to leave it hidden and discover their own goal over time, allowing themselves some contingency and room to bask in the glory they’ve just earned.
The accepted belief is that there is always room for improvement. For runners who’ve run their first long run, the common next step is speed. Some go for longer distances. For those who’ve just run their fastest, the goal is to run at least the same pace for still longer, or to increase the pace.
You will have one, two, or if you’re young or lucky, more iterations of a new and improved best. Some runners are eternal “PB” chasers. But what if you reach a point where your achievement really was your best? Maybe not the best you are genuinely capable of but it was truly your best given your current life circumstances (which could be as simple as, ‘I’ve optimized the training time I’m willing to prioritize in a week’, all the way to, ‘I just had a life transition – new baby, new spouse, etc. and have to learn to rebalance life and running’).
What if continuous improvement is NOT infinite? And if you find yourself at a stop point at the top of a steep change, what then?
The pitfall in the quest for continuous improvement is this: If you somehow fail to improve by your own measures, you run the risk of falling off track altogether.
The three familiar outcomes tend to be:
In this scenario, you become frustrated with your inability to surpass your personal best and stop running. You run the risk of losing out on exercise and fitness altogether. But in a best-case scenario, you try to find a new activity that can fulfill the needs that running did. If you are a person who thrives on variety, this may be an acceptable alternative, but it follows on the heels of an ignoble end to your running, potentially unworthy of your hard work. And you will find yourself repeating this pattern with whatever new sport you take on.
After you fall off-track, assuming your break isn’t permanent, you may find a way to justify your break (you may legitimately need time to heal from an injury or navigate some life transition). After your break, you have to re-start and re-set your goals and standards. In this outcome, you simply reset the clock, and start back at the beginning, dreaming of your old glory days and getting back to your old fitness standards and then potentially beating it. This could be a sustainable cycle that offers you a chance to relive your own personal achievement patterns. This challenge may be adequate for some.
This outcome offers you the greatest exposure to building your run maturity. If you find yourself in the third category, you are likely considering the alternatives. Have you reached your physical limit?Perhaps you’ve reached your limit within your life balances, in which case you have to seek new life balances in order to make progress. Or perhaps you’re considering a new sport. Assuming running still holds value to you, the task ahead of you is to find your personal run maturity. It may well include (on your next long run) asking yourself why you run and understand your answer to it.
If you are still running, that means that running is now an integral part of the ecosystem of your life, and therefore deserves to be treated as such. Your running goals must now be linked to all your life goals. And you can begin to accept the ebbs and flows in your running as you begin to weave it into the network of the various facets of your life. If you do this, your personal ecosystem will, in turn, support your running. Accept your achievements in running as a part of an overall life balance. There will be more to come, but perhaps in greater harmony and in concert with other life forces. You can begin to define your next running-best in a new, holistic way. And you will have successfully invoked your running Zen.