Most goal setting experts agree that if you’re going to set and achieve a big goal, you need to live for that goal.

You need to obsess over that goal. Eat, drink, and breathe that goal. You need to be all in.

When I decided to run my first 100 mile ultramarathon, that’s exactly how I felt. I read race reports, studied course maps, worked and reworked my training. It’s all I wanted to talk about. Just ask my wife…

And because it’s all you eat, drink, and think about, other aspects of your life naturally get pushed aside.

If you’re focused on a running goal, time spent on the roads or trails means time away from family and friends. You might have to sacrifice family dinners, happy hours with friends, or lazy Saturday mornings.

And let’s be real, that sucks. For you, and for those around you.

No one wants their wife, husband, or friend to leave them high and dry. Which is often exactly what you (the runner) are doing. And exactly why a lot of the people who care for us the most, don’t always care for our running goals.

Building A Case for Support

Being the one man (or woman) sport that running is, it’s easy to pretend that you don’t really need extra support to succeed with running goals.

But while it might just be our own legs that move us forward, the reality is that running is really a team sport. We need the team to be supportive when training gets hard, hold us accountable if we want to quit, and celebrate when we’ve done something awesome. And often times on race day, we need the team for logistical support.

No one wants to go at a big goal alone. It’s more difficult, lonelier, and you’re less likely to succeed.

If you’re the only one invested in the goal, it’s easy to quit because you’re the only person who will be let down. When others have invested their time and energy into your success, it’s harder to let them down as well.

That’s why we need to get our loved ones on board. That’s why we need a network that we can count on.

Share Your Excitement

We all want our family and friends to be as excited about our next marathon, ultramarathon, or other big goal as we are.

But chances are, no matter how happy they are for us, they just aren’t going to feel the same drive we feel that leads us to train every single day. And why would they? They don’t get to experience the same highs and lows, they don’t get to cross the finish line.

Which is why it’s important to share, in detail, what it is about the goal that excites you most. Help them understand where you’re coming from, and why you want to do it in the first place. The more they understand your motives, the more invested they will be in your process.

When I’m about to share a new goal with my wife, I like to cover these 3 topics:

  1. What I hope to gain from this experience
  2. What is so appealing about this particular race or challenge
  3. Why I need to train for this type of race over another, shorter distance or less time consuming race, to achieve my desired experience

If you just go up to someone and say, “Hey! I just signed up for this ultramarathon that’s going to cost lots of money and take up all my weekday evenings and Saturday mornings for the next 20 weeks, and I want you to be super excited for me!” Chances are, you’re going to get a funny look.

Help your normal support group understand your motives, so that they can focus on that sweet reward as well.

Don’t Hide The Truth

When you’re all excited about a new event, and when you’re all fired up to share it with your loved ones, it’s easy to forget (or push aside) the truth.

The truth is that it’s going to be hard. It’s going to pull you down. It’s going to take up your time.

It’ll sometimes make you tired, cranky, and want to eat an entire day’s worth of food before lunch.

But most importantly, the truth is that you’re not the only who will be affected. By committing to a big race, you’re also committing your loved ones.

If you don’t address this from the beginning, those loved ones who want to support you the most are going to be surprised two months into training when all of a sudden you aren’t around to cook dinner.

And that initial excitement and support they so graciously provide you with in the beginning, will disappear.

So even though talking about the hard stuff is no fun, it’s important to be up front about it from the beginning. Again, here are the topics I cover when discussing a new race with my wife:

  1. What sacrifices I’m willing to take to have the experience
  2. What those sacrifices will mean for our day-to-day life
  3. What type of support I’m expecting from you

Supplement the Support

Even with the best support group around, and I think I’ve got it, sometimes I need a little something more. Usually, because I’m the only one in my family who runs ultras, I find what’s missing through support from someone else who actually runs and can fully relate to my ups and downs.

Here are places I’ve had luck finding support outside of my normal network:

  1. A running group or partner
  2. Blogs and online communities (never hesitate to email me, for example)
  3. New friends who share the same passion
  4. Other racers (post on the race’s Facebook page, or ask the race director if they know anyone that might be looking for a running partner)
  5. A coach

This isn’t a complete list, and you may already have a great group of running friends who always have your back. If you don’t, put yourself out there and explore trail running clubs or meet ups. Having this angle of support will be priceless.

Let Them Know You Care

It took me 32 hours to run this year’s Massanutten Mountain Trails 100. 32 hours.

And you know what else took 32 hours? Crewing me at the Massanutten Mountain Trails 100.

My wife, mother, father, and step mother followed me along that entire time. They tended to my feet, filled my bottles, fixed me food, and made sure my pacer was always taken care of.

They gave themselves completely to my desire to run up and down those mountains for 103 miles. And I will be eternally grateful.

And I know that if I ever want their support again (which I most certainly do), they need to see how much I appreciate that.

When you first told your support network what you wanted to take on, they also made the commitment (knowingly or not) to be there for you. Acknowledge the sacrifices they make throughout training and on race day. Also remind them that you know it’s not just you that’s putting effort into the race.

Even when you’re tired and sore, show them that you care. And when all else fails, flowers never hurt.

Finally, Give The Support Yourself

If you want to build a support network for when you need it, make sure you are that support network when others need it.

Because being a part of someone else succeeding at a massive goal is almost as incredible and inspiring as doing it yourself.

Author Doug Hay is the founder of Rock Creek Runner, host of the Trail Talk podcast, and fanatical about everything trail running -- beards, plaid shirts, bruised toenails, and all. He and his wife live and run in beautiful Black Mountain, NC.

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One thought on “How to Build A Support Network that Won’t Let You Down

  1. Absolutely! I got a little weepy the last couple miles of my first marathon (making breathing difficult- do not recommend) thinking about everyone who had supported me on that path.

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