Running without expectations

Expect the worst. Hope for the best.

This is my new mantra. I’m thinking about printing a line of T-shirts with that saying across the chest.

I don’t mean to be pessimistic, but when my hopes are high, inevitably they are dashed. If I set my expectations low, I am always pleasantly surprised.

I learned this lesson at a young age. When I was 14 years old I entered a milk commercial contest. Every day after school the local TV station ran an ad for a contest where kids could write in commercial ideas for milk. The winners would appear in their own milk commercial. I entered twice.

My first commercial idea involved animation and graphics. It was clever, hip and cool. There were little cartoon characters and a jingle involved. Laser beams full of vitamins took aim at oversized glasses of milk that kids would then drink and become miniature Hulk Hogans. I loved it. I was convinced it would win.

My second commercial idea was written in less than five minutes and I only submitted it because we had an extra stamp in the house. I don’t remember much of that unremarkable idea except the last line. “Why didn’t Beethoven finish his Unfinished Symphony? He was too busy drinking milk!” Yeah, I didn’t think it was that great, either.

The second commercial won.

Me and my oversized white glasses and bad perm appeared on TV every afternoon for months reciting that last line. I thought it was ridiculous and a bit embarrassing, but it struck a chord with the producers of the commercial. They had me come into the ad agency to “pitch” the idea and then sent me to the studio to film it. I got two free gallons of Rocky Road ice cream out of that experience, one of which my brother and dad finished before I had a bite.

My point is that I am not a very good judge of potential outcomes. Fast forward to April 18, 2011, the day of the Boston Marathon. I was so ready. I was excited, pumped up and absolutely certain I would have a course PR. The stars were all aligned in my favor. I mean, we even had a tailwind! Good weather in Boston rarely happens on Patriots’ Day.

But the marathon had other plans for me. It wasn’t a horrible race, but I fell short of my goal by a good 10 minutes. If I had gone into the race with low expectations, I have no doubt I would have been thrilled with my outcome. Instead, I limped away with a twinge of disappointment in my heart.

Five short days later I was back in Utah and my husband and I decided to do the Legacy Duathlon. Notice I did not say “race” the duathlon. Nope. I was simply looking for something to do to keep me out of the gym and get my legs moving. Besides, my parents were still watching our kids, so it was a rare opportunity for us to do something together without the guilt of leaving the kids with a sitter. You can’t pass that up!

This particular event involved a 5K run, 22-mile bike ride and another 5K run. I hadn’t run a step since the marathon and was still feeling the Newton Hills in my quads. My shoulder was still peeling like onions from the sunburn I had from the race. As far as my cycling went, well, I’m embarrassed to say that my bike and I had been strangers since October.

I am a fair-weather rider and do not enjoy being cold, so it’s indoor cycling for me until the temps reach the 60s. In my defense, I did have a tune-up and I do teach indoor cycling so I wasn’t completely unprepared, but cyclists out there know that riding an indoor spin bike is very different from riding a road bike.

This was a small race, so the organizers had the participants line themselves up according to their anticipated 5K pace. I found some fit-looking girls who thought a 25-minute 5K sounded nice. Sounded great to me, too. Plus, I liked their headbands, so I took my place beside them and prepared my mind for an enjoyable day out on Legacy Parkway.

In Boston, I knew by Mile 4 that my day would not be as I planned. On Legacy Parkway, I knew by Mile 1 that this day, too, would not be what I planned. But this time, my surprise was of the good kind. My legs were on fire in the best of ways. My pace was a good 30 seconds faster than I expected. At first, I thought my Garmin was throwing a fit, but when it was still spitting out a fast pace more than two miles into the run, I knew that it wasn’t my Garmin, but my legs that were doing the work.

Happy with my run, but still keeping the expectations low, I got to my bike and realized just how long it had been since I’d clipped into those pedals. I couldn’t figure out how to get my helmet on. I’m sure I gave the spectators quite a show and made the other participants a little less self-conscious about their own skills.

“No worries,” I thought. “Just enjoy the day.” I got the helmet on and I was off.

When people say that you never forget how to ride a bike, well, they’re right. I had a shaky start, but a mile down the road I was comfortable and happy. I had forgotten how exhilarating it is to feel the wind in your face. My bike was making some odd noises, but I didn’t care. I figured if my tires blew or the frame fell apart, no big deal. Someone would eventually find me and I’d still have had a good day.

Nothing broke. Nothing blew. I finished the ride in one piece and smiling. Then I was off to the last 5K.

Have you ever run through Jell-O? That’s what it feels like to get off a bike and start running. The legs are filled with concrete and the world moves in slow motion. With expectations still cautiously low, I began my last run. I purposely didn’t look at the Garmin until a good four minutes into the run. I expected to see some slow times, but once again, I was shocked to see an incredible pace. I ran with joy- sheer joy. Everything felt great, and before I knew it, it was over.

I finished the Legacy Duathlon in 1 hour, 58:16 seconds. I was the first overall female.

It was a much needed victory. Not because of the time or the place in which I finished, but because I surpassed my own expectations.

Lesson learned. It’s good to have goals. But for me, it’s best to lower my own expectations, take off the pressure, unload the burden with which I weigh myself down and just do it… with joy.

Oh, and make sure that the brake pads on your bike aren’t rubbing against your tires when you ride 22 miles.

Kim Cowart is a wife, mom, 24-Hour Fitness instructor and two-time Boston Marathoner. She hopes, one day, to master her bike helmet and look as competent cycling as she does running and will put her cycling skills to the at the Goldilocks Bike Event.

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