Hello, New Year. I’ve been thinking about you for a few weeks now, wondering how we’ll fare together. Although nothing magical happens on January 1, many of us think of this as a time to start with a clean slate. We can save what we want from last year, throw out the junk, and look at you with dreams and aspirations. So, New Year, you’ve got to take me as I am, right when the ball drops. I’m not quite where I want to be, but who really is? Let’s make a deal. I will bring my best. My best attitude, my best effort, my best goals, my best mindset. And you just be you. New. Wide open. Full of opportunity. Full of time and second chances. I’m not gonna wait for you to get old. Or for me to get old. Hello New Year. Let’s go.
I have got some big goals this year.
Huge goals. Embarrassingly optimistic goals. Goals brought to me by my past, and some by chance as well. Goals that will require significant change to make them happen. Goals with a high chance of failure. Goals that have me frightened and excited.
If you read this column, you know that I have a passion for running trail ultramarathons. I know it seems insane, but it’s actually quite relevant to any other fitness journey.
Just a few weeks ago, I got a surprise email from BUFF USA, the apparel company that specializes in the head and neck “buffs” as seen on Survivor (we are a BUFF retailer, selling them at Crozet Running). In short, the email told me “Congratulations, you are getting one of our sponsor entries to the Western States 100!”
For some background here, the Western States 100 is the Super Bowl of trail and ultrarunning. It is the very first 100-mile footrace and the most prestigious in the nation, always drawing the very best of the best. The race starts at Squaw Valley Resort at Lake Tahoe, and travels over the Sierra mountains and canyons, ultimately finishing in Auburn, California. Like many trail races, there is a limit to how many participants can enter because of U.S. Forest Service permits. That number is just under 400 runners. So, with almost 5,000 runners applying to get in each year, there is a lottery system with a disappointingly small chance of your name getting picked. I didn’t get picked in this year’s lottery, held last month.
Running Western States is a dream of most distance trail runners because of the prestige and history of the race, as well as the fact that you are running with the best trail runners in the nation and from around the world. The top-ten men and women from the prior year have guaranteed entry, as do about 20 elite runners who race their way in via winning one of the “Golden Ticket” races. There are several sponsor spots, and volunteer spots, and then the majority of the field are just the lucky everyday runners who got their names pulled. This gives Western States such a great vibe, being such a competitive race, but still a small race where the back-of-the-packers and the nation’s elite all hang out at the start line together.
More from luck and having a good relationship with our rep rather than my non-elite speed, I was chosen for one of BUFF’s sponsor spots.
This was an amazing email to get. For where I am right now in my running, it was as if the Dallas Cowboys had emailed me and told me I made the team. Or Dave Matthews called and said he wanted me to play guitar with him on his upcoming tour. I’m going to Western States! I was ecstatic and still am today.
And now it’s time for goal-setting. The race is in late June, so I’ve got about 6 months to prepare.
I am still in awe of my good fortune, and it has come at a perfect time in my running career. I’m coming off of 3 years of great racing, with no injuries and still-improving performance. I’m locally competitive, but far from being the guy who’s actually winning races these days.
For Western States, I’m going all in. I am indeed somewhat embarrassed to say that I am shooting for a top-10 placement. Anyone “in the know” would also probably be somewhat embarrassed for me, because that is a super lofty goal, and frankly, I’m just not quite top-10-at-Western-States kind of talent!
But here lies the point: so what?! If you don’t dream the dream, there is no dream! Not many people accomplish really big things in life unless they thought it was possible.
Sure, we all set realistic goals at times—things that are a pretty safe bet as long as we show up and do some work. But, how often do you set huge, embarrassing goals? Goals that will require immense work, even a change in your being, to accomplish them?
I’m excited to begin this journey. I have a rough plan of how I’m going to train, and it’s going to be tough. It’s going to take everything I have, mentally and physically, to get through these next 6 months. Only major changes in what I’m doing will get me there. I’ve got to get faster, tougher, and stronger. Are your goals big enough? Are they demanding change?
Whatever your goals are, your entire past has made you prepared for your journey towards them. Your current health, your recent failures, your relationships, and even your childhood. It is important to look inward and appreciate why you are how you are, and appreciate that you are uniquely prepared for taking on the goals you’ve set for yourself.
There is a huge chance that I won’t meet my goal of a top 10 at States. I’m a dreamer, but I’m no dummy. I put my chance of success at less than 5 percent. I won’t ever regret going for it, both on race day, but also in the months of training leading up to it. But I think I would regret not giving myself a challenging goal. Do you set goals that have a high chance for failure? Nobody wants to fail, but if you knowlingly put yourself out there, you will actually no longer be vulnerable to “failure.”