Intentions vs. Goals: Road Race Edition

Confession: I had my first DNF. My ego survived.

I wasn’t originally planning on running an 8K last Sunday, but when my original plans for the weekend fell through, I registered for the race. 

By race day, I was under a lot of emotional stress. When that happens, my nutrition and sleep patterns go very, very out of whack. Also, thanks to a wicked cold, I’d only run twice since the Richmond Half.

I showed up at the race start because I was hoping it would improve my mood. I’d told a friend I’d see her there, and there would be a post-race breakfast. Duh.

I ran down to the race start. Nothing felt right. It wasn’t like any of my muscles were tweaked. Something was just off.

I met up with my friend. My brain was not in the game. 

As I waited for the race to start, my body was telling me that I needed to return the bathroom. But, I’d toughed it out 5 miles of “having to go to the bathroom” in the past, with no real need to go in the end, so there was a chance I’d be okay.

The first three miles were uncomfortable and somewhat surreal. I had no watch and no race plan, and I didn’t really care. Between miles 2 and 3, I was in dire need of a bathroom. There aren’t any bathrooms on a 4.9 mile course. I thought briefly about trespassing onto construction sites, but let’s get real: this was the heart of DC’s federal building complexes, with 3 security cameras trained on you at any moment, and I was wearing a race bib, which at a click of a button could reveal all the same information as my driver’s license. Ultimately, I dropped out of the race in front of the National Air and Space Museum, somewhere after mile 3. The friend I was running with called out, “Are you quitting?” Yes. I was. And it didn’t matter. There was no way I could finish this race with the way my guts were feeling. It was supposed to be a fun run. Not a double-over-in-GI-pain run.

None of the museums were open yet, and the closest public bathroom that I knew would be open was all the way back at the Washington Monument – 9 blocks away, if you’re keeping track. I made it there, but not without significant distress. I felt, at times, like a freak grimacing as I walked through the Mall with my race bib on, green skirt, and Santa hat, as non-racing runners ran by for their Sunday long runs. 

DNF, was, of course, the right call. My body, the entire system, just couldn’t take it. It wasn’t a matter of fortitude, and really, there was nothing to prove. If I were in better emotional shape, I would have been able to fuel better. If anything, I would have been able to push through the GI issues. But that’s just not where I was on Sunday.


Okay, so what’s the point of this race recap? Not to solicit sympathy. Really. Rather, it’s to illustrate why I’m more about setting intentions than goals. And it’s not because I’m a slacker. I don’t feel bad about what happened. In fact, I feel the worst for my friend, who spent the time after she finished until she found me wondering whether I was okay.
This column in Yoga Journal (no idea when it was first published) does a decent job of distinguishing between goals and intentions, although I’ll be the first to tell you that I am the worst meditator on the planet. Anyway, the key parts of the column for our purposes are this:
Goal making is a valuable skill; it involves envisioning a future outcome in the world or in your behavior, then planning, applying discipline, and working hard to achieve it. You organize your time and energy based on your goals; they help provide direction for your life. Committing to and visualizing those goals may assist you in your efforts, but neither of these activities is what I call setting intention. They both involve living in an imagined future and are not concerned with what is happening to you in the present moment. With goals, the future is always the focus: Are you going to reach the goal? Will you be happy when you do? What’s next?
Setting intention, at least according to Buddhist teachings, is quite different than goal making. It is not oriented toward a future outcome. Instead, it is a path or practice that is focused on how you are “being” in the present moment. Your attention is on the ever-present “now” in the constantly changing flow of life. You set your intentions based on understanding what matters most to you and make a commitment to align your worldly actions with your inner values.
And even further down:
. . .  only by remembering your intentions can you reconnect with yourself during those emotional storms that cause you to lose touch with yourself. 
I don’t need to spell it out for you. On Sunday, I honored the intention that I set last year of staying injury-free and healthy

4 thoughts on “Intentions vs. Goals: Road Race Edition

  1. Beautiful post. But horrible experience. I have been there with the stomach thing and it's simply impossible to continue when feeling like that. I can't believe you made it 9 blocks to the bathroom. So sorry about your experience, but I'm glad you have a good attitude.

  2. Oh no! I'm so sorry that you had such a terrible experience, but glad you were able to make it to a bathroom without a walk of shame! Sometimes in races, that is an accomplishment in itself! Hope the emotional stress has subsided.

  3. Thanks so much, Amy. Heh, walking around obviously looking like I had dropped out of a race was “shameful” enough (it didn't really matter, actually). 🙂

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