Commentary: 'Process goals' keep us running

Jaws dropped when Jake's Prius pulled into the lot Saturday morning.

We'd received his terse emails with news of his nephew, Sam. Not good news. Jake and Lea took turns at the hospital, never leaving Sam alone.

Since normalcy was out the window, the Saturday Runners didn't expect Jake to show up, water bottle strapped to his waist, running shoes double knotted.

Every gruff old runner and tanned young sprinter hugged him.

"How are things?" we asked.

Jake made a face, a mixture of despair, resignation and resolve. He told us that his engineering colleagues made it possible for him to work from home, and friends overwhelmed his family with casseroles and offers of help.

He then redirected the conversation.

"How many miles you going? I've only been out twice in two weeks."

Then he took off, picking up the pace like he'd run every day.

I trailed behind, unable to match Jake's starting speed. I'd been adding mileage at 10% a week as Jake recommended, but hadn't reported to him. My 38-mile weeks and even 18-mile training runs seemed trivial compared to Sam's serious illness.

Our email exchanges had been "Sam Updates," so I was surprised the following day to find Jake's email titled "Process Goals."

"Often runners think only of outcome goals: finish time, place in age group, beating the idiot dressed like a ballerina. But experienced runners ought to have process goals, achievements we reach by how we approach the challenge, not merely how it ends.

So how do you define process goals? Ask how your training's been weak. You can improve in consistency, resilience, intelligence. A process goal may be: I will run 40 miles per week; I will not walk during long runs; I will not cut runs short on bad days.

All goals should be tempered with common sense. Cutting a run short because you broke your leg wouldn't negate your goal of not skipping training runs. I am not suggesting specific goals, but improving the training process can be as satisfying as any outcome goal."

My process goal had been to live up to Jake's recent compliment that I was "one of the most tough-minded people he knew," and eliminate his old view that I was an "undisciplined runner who made beginner mistakes."

Motivated by Jake and my Daily Pilot pledge to bag a first place in the LA Marathon in March, when I turn 70, I have consistently added mileage and a day of hill-repeats.

It's all out the window.

The pain in the ball of my left foot wrecks my rhythm and saps my speed. Yes, I completed two 18-mile-runs, but I ran on a dirt track, grass and beach sand.

Races are on asphalt. Injuries that irritate in training derail runners at 20 miles and crush them in the final 6.2 miles.

I won't bother Jake with this lament.

Instead, recognizing that my old habit of ignoring injury isn't working, I'll follow Jake's email and make an intelligent process goal: I commit to treatment, including physical therapy, podiatrist and Ibuprofen.

Newport Beach resident CARRIE LUGER SLAYBACK is training to run the Los Angeles Marathon at age 70.

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