I have always been a goal oriented person in just about every aspect of my life. Running and triathlon are great for me because they give me another thing to set goals for. I love pushing myself to see what I am capable of, just like the next guy. However, it always helps to have a road map to help you find your way. Goals are a great motivational tool and I hope that these tips help you set better goals and reach them!
I have only been racing now for about two years, my first race ever being the Rock and Roll Marathon in San Diego, CA, June 2008. I went from couch to marathon in 16 weeks. I knew that setting a single goal of “Finish in X time” was too broad and left plenty of room for failure. I would either make it, or I would not. Either I could do it, or I couldn’t. That is too cut and dry for me. I needed something more. So I developed a goal system that I have used for every race I have completed, including that first marathon.
Most of the runners that I know set time goals for themselves, but at what cost? If the goal is too high, they may start the race too fast and then fade at the finish ending up with a race that is no where near what they are capable of. Since they did not meet that goal, they may not consider that race a success and hang their head. Of course, always remember to look at the big picture. You just ran a marathon! You just ran your first 5K! You just finished your first triathlon! Whatever the race may be, there is always something to celebrate and to learn from. So I propose a stepped goal plan that starts with easy goals and gradually builds. We all know that ANYTHING can happen on race day. Whatever happens though, you can almost always bet on reaching some of your goals and being mentally tougher for it.
Let me give you some examples. Here is a list of the goals, word for word, that I posted on my blog a few days before my first marathon. (Who did I think I was thinking I would finish in the top 15% of my age group for my first marathon? Ha!)
1. Have fun
2. Stay injury free
4. Finish in my pre-training estimated time of 5:20:00.
5. Finish in the top 25% of my age group (25-29).
6. Finish in my post-training goal of 4:00:00 or less.
7. Finish in the top 15% of my age group.
8. Finish in the top 25% overall.
9. Finish in the top 15% overall.
10. Finish in 3:45:00
This was my first go at this goal system and though I had the right idea, the execution was a little off. I finished the race in 4:41:53. I went out way too fast and had to walk the last few miles, a total newbie mistake. However, the race was a complete success! I reached my first four goals! Goals five and higher were just set too high for me at that point in my running, but I still was trying to use my goals to push myself. I had a blast! I did not get injured! I FINISHED! I beat the time that I originally thought by almost 40 minutes! I would call that a great race!
Let’s fast forward a little bit. This past summer I completed my first Half-Ironman triathlon (1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike, 13.1 mile run). Here again is the list of goals word for word that I posted on my site (and on Daiymile, of course) a few days before the race:
1. Have Fun!! (always #1, if it is not fun, why participate?)
2. Race MY best race, not someone else’s race.
3. Stay injury free.
4. Race smart (pacing & nutrition included)
5. FINISH! (It feels great, no matter what the clock says)
6. Finish in under 6:00
7. Finish in under 5:45
8. Finish in under 5:30
9. Finish in under 5:20
10. Finish in under 5:15
The first 5 goals, though not guaranteed, are always my top goals. If I am not going to have fun, I have no need to be there. If I am not going to try my best, I have no need to be there. If I am not going to race smart, I have no need to be there. And number 5, let’s quote Dean Karnazes here, “Run if you can, walk if you have to, crawl if you must, but never give up.”
The next five goals are where it starts to get interesting. Being that this was my first 70.3 race, and in a city that I have never run or biked in, I really did not know what to expect. So I looked back at my training and formulated these times. Notice how they get progressively harder. I was fairly confident that as long as I did not do anything dumb, I could finish in 6 hours. If things went well, I might be able to pull off 5:45. If everything goes off perfectly, I could stop the clock at 5:30. If there was a tail wind, 5:20 could be achievable. If all of a sudden I learned how to swim straight, had a tail wind on the bike, and the run was downhill in 52 degree weather, I could celebrate a 5:15 victory!
Honestly I would have been happy with any of those times. The first five goals were more important to me at this point than the times. The idea was, my goals were progressive, leaving plenty of room for success and little room for failure. Using my goals, I was setting myself up for a successful race!
I still use this system and I have been tweaking it over time from race to race. It worked this past November at the 2009 Richmond Marathon (my hardest goal being a Boston Qualification) and I plan on using it this coming May for my first Ironman race in St George, Utah. I use my goals as a good pre-game check, as well as a way to push myself and make the most of the race.
Hopefully this helps you set some goals for your upcoming race season. Always shoot for the moon, but at the same time be realistic. I could have very easily written down a goal of winning the Richmond Marathon, but how realistic would that have been based on the training I had done?
One last tip, do not keep your goals a secret. Share them! Write them down. Post them on your blog. Share them with your friends on Dailymile. Let your friends help you be accountable for them. I promise you it will serve as a fantastic motivation to help you set smart goals and make your next race a huge success!
Happy training! Happy goal setting! Happy goal reaching!