Stealth Expectations

Photo Credit: Kevin Morris

No matter how much I prepare myself for the morning after, there’s always a moment of regret when I wake up. It has happened after every marathon I’ve ever raced – no matter how well or how poorly it went.

I had this feeling after I ran a huge negative split and PR at Boston. I had this feeling after I won the 2014 US Marathon Championships. I have this feeling after I improved my finishing position from the 2012 Trials by 16 places and improved on my incoming ranking by almost the same amount.

The hardest part about the Olympic Trials Marathon is its name. The conversation usually goes something like this:

Them: Oh, you’re a runner? What are you training for?

Me: The Olympic Trials.

Them: Oh, I hope you make it!

Me: Oh, I won’t make it.

Them: Don’t say that! You’re so fast!

Me: Yes, but I’m ranked 20th, and only the top 3 get to go to the Olympics.

Them: Never say never! 20th is pretty good!

Me: Yes, but the top-ranked runners have run over 10 minutes faster than me. On the same day. In the same race.

Them: Oh….

[awkward silence]

Me: I’m excited because I love the marathon and it’s a huge honor to qualify for the race where I get to compete against the nation’s best. I only get this opportunity once every 4 years and I’m super excited to show the world where I can rank up against them. My goal is top 10.

Them: Well, good luck, then. I hope you make it!

Me: Thanks. [rolling my eyes and walking away]

It’s hard enough to reckon with my own expectations. Addressing the expectations of everyone else who knows nothing about running, and dealing with the aftermath of questions after the race like “so, did you make the Olympics??” and their disappointment when I say “no, but I placed 11th!” makes it a lot harder. They’d be more impressed if I won the local marathon in 4 hours.


The Olympic Marathon Trials was an extremely challenging race, and anyone who finished should be proud of themselves. In fact, everyone who qualified should be proud of themselves.

According to ARRS’s analysis of the race, the women’s finish was slowed by 6 minutes and 41 seconds on average, which makes my official time of 2:37:56 equivalent to 2:31:15. That’s a 2-minute PR outright. But if you consider that ARRS also gave Boston 2014 a negative 2-minute and 54-second rating, it would be almost 5 minutes better than my “PR” since my 2:33:15 would convert to 2:36:09.

According to ARRS, my top 7 marathons are the following:

  1. US 2016 Olympic Trials 2:37:56 = 2:31:15 ARRS
  2. Twin Cities Marathon 2014: 2:34:01 = 2:34:57 ARRS
  3. Twin Cities Marathon 2013 2:34:31 = 2:35:21 ARRS
  4. Boston 2014 2:33:15 = 2:36:09 ARRS
  5. Beijing World Championships Marathon 2:38:15 = 2:36:20 ARRS
  6. US 2012 Olympic Trials 2:37:21 = 2:37:38 ARRS
  7. Twin Cities Marathon 2012 2:36:24 = 2:38:39 ARRS

As you can see by all the numbers, I’m rationalizing. That’s what I do when I get scared or disappointed. I turn to the numbers. If I shared all my pre-race verbal vomits from the past 3 races, that’s what you would see – 90% numbers, 10% feelings.

The fact that I even need to rationalize my performance when so may people (including my husband) either couldn’t make it to the starting line healthy or couldn’t make it to the finish line in one piece, is embarrassing. Luckily I have Brené Brown to help me sort it out.

Often stories of falling are threaded with sadness, frustration, or anger, describing something that, for some reason, just didn’t turn out the way we hoped it would. We need to examine our story for phrases like, “I had my heart set on it,” or “I counted on this happening,” or “I just thought…” If expressions like these show up, we might be struggling with disappointment. Here is what you need to know about disappointment: Disappointment is unmet expectations, and the more significant the expectations, the more significant the disappointment.

The way to address this to be up-front about our expectations by taking the time to reality-check what we’re expecting and why. Expectations often coast along under our radar, making themselves known only after they have bombed something we had high hopes for into rubble. I call these stealth expectations.

Brené says that the way to address it is to be up-front about our expectations and reality-check what we’re expecting. That’s what I did almost every day for the last 2 weeks leading up to LA! I reality-checked and double reality-checked my expectations. I even wrote a blog about it!

But nonetheless, I can’t ignore my feelings of disappointment. My goal was to be in the top 10. It was a challenging goal, but in my mind, especially after my daily reality-checks, it was realistic.

I run well in the heat. I am good at finding my own Marathon Pace Effort regardless of the conditions. I am good at getting the most out of myself on any given day. I was ready to dig deeper than ever before. I was ranked twice as high up the list as I had been in 2012 and had a battery of solid performances behind me in the previous 4 years.

All of these things were true, and stayed true in the race, but the fact remains that 10 women were better than me on race day.

That’s the scary thing about setting place goals. You only control what you can control, and I did that. The numbers from ARRS certainly help, especially since I was certain that I was in close to 2:31 shape given all of my training and how it typically converts to a marathon performance.

verbal vomit 2016

Pre-race verbal vomit from the flight to LA.


You’ll notice that none of this had anything to do with my expectations for anyone else or place or anything. It had everything to do with how I would execute the race, and I did almost exactly this. And it worked extremely well. I just ran out of course to catch anyone else (and it would have taken a LOT more course since I was 2 minutes back from 10th place).

What are my takeaways? Well, as I said in my Flotrack interview just moments after the race (and had already been thinking for a few weeks and months)…

  • I loved every minute and made the most of my day at the Trials.
  • I know I’m fitter than ever.
  • I love racing the marathon.
  • I want to test my limits over the next 18 months while still maintaining a high level of performance.
  • I want to make the 2017 World Championship Team.
  • If I stay healthy and continue improving over the next 4 years, in 2020 my answer to people’s enthusiastic “I hope you make it!” will be “Me too.”
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