In the past few years, I ran a 1:30:06 half marathon. It wasn’t a PR, but it felt amazing since I was expecting to run between 1:35 – 1:40. Almost exactly a year before that, I ran a 1:30:12 half marathon, and was devastated. I trained pretty hard for that race and felt I was in good enough shape to run a 1:28 or faster. When I missed it, I sulked for two weeks.

The following year, I set a simple goal to run one race a month. The only training plan I’m following is running 25 miles per week, which includes an 8 – 10 mile long run. At the time, I had three young kids (now four!), so I set my running expectations relatively low.

Here’s the crazy thing: I had more fun than I’ve had running in years, and I’m not too far off some PRs!

Are low expectations the secret to running happier?

In my quest to explore this, I came across a New York Times article, where Carol Dweck, professor of psychology at Stanford University says,

Having low expectations for yourself is a recipe for feeling good about yourself at any particular moment but not getting anywhere.

This quote resonates with me because, while running with lowered expectations this year has been a ton of fun, I know it won’t get me to my ultimate goal of running in the Boston Marathon. However, there are some things I am learning and can use as motivation towards that goal.

Since many friends have ran Boston before, here are a few reflections on what I’m learning during this time of lowered expectations. I hope you’ll find something you can relate to on your quest to your ultimate goal.


Until six months ago, I only entered races if I was training for them. It seemed like a waste of money and effort otherwise.

This is misguided.

Running in a race is a whole different ballgame from running during a training run. You need to practice if you expect to get better. The effort is different, the strategy is different, and more importantly, the mental preparation is different. It’s tough to simulate a racing mindset without actually doing it. When you race, you gain experience in handling race day conditions. This all becomes part of training for any “real” race down the road. By knowing how your mind and body will react, you can come up with a plan when things don’t go as planned.


Ten years of consistent running has given me a fantastic aerobic base. Even though I was in a season of less running, that doesn’t go away.

For years, I thought if I didn’t train by the book for 12 – 16 weeks, the best I could expect was a jogging equivalent finish time. What I learned through these lowered expectations is that my out-of-shape self is more in-shape than I realize. Having low expectations through the first third of that year taught me that I wasn’t too far off my fastest times, and it didn’t take nearly as much work as I thought to get back there.

Most of us are more capable (faster in this context) than we think. We could all benefit from giving ourselves the benefit of the doubt rather than second guessing our abilities.


When it comes to most things in life, we’re happier when we do better than expected but rarely does that translate into huge achievements. So, we need to have a healthy balance and ultimately set expectations high, but be able to change our expectations when life doesn’t go our way.

Dr. Mary Grogan, clinical psychologist, and director of Change It Psychology in Auckland, New Zealand, wrote,

Setting high expectations may be a good strategy if you can also allow the experience to be different to what you imagine. Often, setting high expectations comes at a high cost, the painful thud as you fall back to reality.

Put another way, if we set our sights high, but have a healthy understanding of what it means if we don’t get there, we may still be satisfied with the results if we don’t hit it exactly. I often feel like a failure if my high expectations aren’t met, robbing me of the joy that comes from just participating.

Finding the courage to go for those high expectations and audacious goals, while allowing ourselves the mental flexibility to adjust if things don’t turn out the way we hoped, is, I think, the key to happiness.


Since making that shift a few years back, I found I’m having way more fun running that I have in years. Especially now, as live races (hopefully) start to return to normal, race day becomes the event, not just the race. Someday I feel I will again go “all-in,” but not during this season of life. For now, I will lower my expectations to match what I can handle, while continuing to learn about myself, and apply that forward. This will help me become a stronger runner and happier person!

  • Do you have appropriate expectations for your goals?
  • Are you willing to adjust if those expectations aren’t met?
  • What’s the one big thing you know is standing in your way of your next big goal?

Share below. I’d love to hear your thoughts.