Finally had the chance to toe the line at a 10K a couple of weekends ago. I didn't harbor any unrealistic expectations about how well (or poorly) I was going to run. After a few years of just plain running because my ego overcame good counsel - with the only racing being the twice-yearly half-marathon beat-down by the missus - I was grateful for the single week of the common cold/flu which occurred sometime back. Conservative mileage and speed training meant I was 5K race fit, barely. I set three performance goals for the race; one achievable if every potential factor fell into place, one which was a little more reasonable, and, lastly, the 'all I want is to be happy, not throw up and not fall down' outcome.
Once the gun went off I knew the high goal was out of the question. I guess the ability to pull that particular card off the table and not mourn my initially-perceived training failure is the difference between 'me ten years ago' and 'me now.' At that moment my friend Johnohon rolled up next to me, swatted me on the behind and said, "Waah-Waah!" It wasn't being addressed by my hash name that bothered me so much as it was the hand imprint which most likely could be seen on my left cheek. That's pretty much the wake-up call for me at any race distance.
The next time he saw me was probably ten minutes after the race finish. We took a few minutes to exchange pleasantries and commend each other on the race performance. He asked me how I felt and I almost instinctively went into 'coach mode,' dissecting every little shortcoming of the morning. I suddenly sensed the fact that I was "just this close" to whining about the race when I stopped myself cold. I then smiled and said, "You know what? I could dwell on the negatives, but I'm actually happy about how I ran today."
"Complaining is mouth (flatus)." - message seen on local tattoo/paraphernalia shop marquee.
Rare is the person who races who doesn't try to make their "today self" better than their "yesterday self." That's the reason we keep track of personal best times for races, it's why the newest Garmins now trumpet the longest run, or the fastest speed-work split or the best 5K performance. There's nothing wrong with desiring to be better, as long as it comes from within. Right?
The drive to set the standard of perfectionism comes in much the same way as motivation; by internal or external forces. Naturally, the internally-derived is more valuable and more long-lasting than the stuff which comes from outside us. A self-oriented perfectionist sets high standards and defines themselves based on the ability to meet those marks.
Persons who let their social environment set the standard deal with what is known a socially-prescribed perfectionism. Let your racing performance tie directly into your self-esteem because your significant other or your circle of friends? Those relationships are going to suffer, and so might you.
Both forms of perfectionism in the most extreme cases have been related to negative outcomes; depression, stress-related problems, body-type concerns, and such. But the internal perfectionist streak looks toward steps along the path, copes with problems as they arrive, and has a positive affect after success is reached.
How many times have I groused about not quite meeting any of the marks I set before me? Way too many times, I have to admit. As a coach I try to find at least one positive thing about an athlete's performance; naturally it's simple to look at the abundance of dark cloud. But if I open my mouth and focus only on the shortcoming it's probably going to be sonically-and-aromatically, um, unwelcome.
Sure, let me go ahead and "stink the joint up."
And I bet if you take enough time after a race you're probably going to find at least one thing you did well on the day, even if there's a preponderance of evidence to the contrary. It doesn't necessarily mean you don't need to go back and see where your training went wrong, just that it's not going to do you any good to blow off effluvium (or steam, for that matter) around everyone else after the race.