Setting Realistic Goals

Setting goals is something that should be done in most aspects of your life, running included.  It doesn’t matter if your goal is a new P.R., complete a new race distance, stay injury free, or to just have fun having a concrete goal gives you something to focus on.  However there is more to goal setting then just picking at random something new you want to accomplish; and if there isn’t there sure should be. Below are the steps I usually go thru when deciding on what I want to achieve in a race, season, or over the next few years.

Make the Goal Realistic: For those performance oriented goals this is when you have to be brutally honest with yourself. With hard work, dedication, and the right race what can you realistically expect to achieve? If you skip this self-assessment stage you can easily dream up a goal that could take years in the making; not a single race season.  The opposite could also be true…underestimating yourself could leave you unsatisfied if you achieve your goal too quickly.
For example: One of my goals is to run a sub 2:37 marathon (sub 6 min/miles).  With a P.R. of 2:39 I know with a lot of speed work and at pace long runs I can get there.  However at this point setting a goal of sub 2:30 just isn’t going to happen and just hoping to break 3 hours is a goal that I know will leave me unsatisfied.
Another goal of mine is to complete a 50 Miler feeling strong.  I have finished a bunch of 50ks, even winning a few, but have a DNF beside that one 50 Miler I attempted. It’s something I know I can complete as long as I relax the pace and fuel properly.
So be real with yourself…who knows you better than you…and set a goal that is challenging yet attainable.

Set an Alternate Goal: Even if you have done the work there are things outside your, or anyone’s, control that can derail a race. Weather is one obvious factor.  Heat and humidity or cold rain can have a big negative impact on a race regardless of how fit and confident you are going into it.  That is why a B goal is a good idea: you can still cross something off the list and show progress instead of seeing the experience as a failure.
Using the sub 2:37 marathon example my B goal would be to run sub 2:45.  It’s something I’ve done several times but it is still very challenging and a great time to run.  For the 50 Miler example my B goal is to finish the race come hell or high water.  That means even if vomiting, cramps, and lightheadedness pop up I take the time to rest and cover the distance

Accountability: Whether if it is a significant other/spouse, training partner, friend, social media, whatever, have someone who can hold you accountable.  This makes it more difficult to bail on that early morning run or only doing 10 of your 12 400m repeats.  The easiest way for me is to set times to do workouts/runs with someone.  But this doesn’t always work because of schedules and different training requirements.  That is why I tell my girlfriend what I plan on running the next day…I know she’ll ask about it later and saying “I didn’t do it because…” makes me feel lazy.
Say your goal is to stay injury free…that means properly warming up and cooling down with your running partner. Or having your significant other pester you about rolling and stretching.  A little bit of accountability can go a long way!

Put in the work: No way around this one.  If you want to achieve a tough goal you have to bust your ass to get there.  A lot of that comes from internal motivation, at least for me.  I am not out to beat anyone or show someone what I am capable of.  I am there to prove it to myself…to show myself what I am capable of, not anyone else.

Performance: Whatever you goal is this is do or die time. Trust in your training, race plan, and overall preparedness. Go forth and conquer!!

Post-race Assessment: Another often over looked part of goal setting. After you complete a goal race look back on it as well as your training cycle and analyze what you did right and wrong.  So you achieved you’re A Goal…GREAT! But maybe you narrowly made it or were so beat up afterward that you couldn’t enjoy the post-race party and newfound sense of accomplishment.  So what could you improve in your next training bout to overcome these short comings and what worked well and shouldn’t be changed?  If you achieved your B Goal or neither (hey I’ve been there myself) where did you go astray and how can you remedy that?  Skipped to many long runs, slacked on speed work, overtrained, any number of things could contribute to a short falling.  The important thing is to look at this as a learning experience and use it to tweak future goals/plans to help you kick Goal A’s ass next time!

These are the steps that I use when looking at what I want out of a race or a given season.  In some cases (like the 50 Miler) I am looking out over several years.  But my key take away points are: Be realistic when setting goals, Set a backup, Be Accountable, Analyze race performance, and Enjoy the ride.  Cause hell if you’re not having fun you’re doing something wrong!

 

Run and have fun. Keep Running...You Never Know Where It Might Lead You!

Back to the Basics

Over the past few years I’ve found there is a thin line between wanting to compete well and being consumed by this urge.  I’ve seen this happen to other people as well; where all they’re concerned with is improving times and running faster.  I am all for chasing P.R.s and pushing your limits but there comes a point where you just need to relax and enjoy the ride.  After some injuries and an over-scheduled end to 2015 I knew that hitting my goal of a sub 2:37 marathon wasn’t going to happen.  After spending a couple weeks in denial it clicked: What am I stressing about? There will be other seasons and races to set records.  That’s when I decided to take the remainder of my season fairly easy and focus more on enjoying every race and experience and less on competing. 
For a lot of runners (at times myself included) everything revolves around competing at a very high level.  Anything other than attaining their goal, whether it is a P.R., race win, or age group placing is a complete failure.  Am I saying being a competitive person is bad? No.  When it comes to racing I am naturally very competitive (probably cause this is the only sport I’ve been halfway decent at!)  But there is SO much more to running then winning or setting new P.R.s.  This becomes more evident to me every year.  The running community is really like nothing else out there.  Meeting other runners, hearing their stories, sharing in experiences, and the overwhelming positive and supportive attitudes means more to me than any medal or trophy ever will.  Maximizing the amount of fun and enjoyment that comes from an event or run has become the focal point of training.  I have burnt out during training cycles before…when running stops being fun.  That is not something I want to ever do again.  Running is not your job (at least for most of us) and is often used as a stress reliever so why should it be adding stress to your life? If running is starting to add stress instead of relieve it try this…
I think it’s important for every runner and athlete in general, to take a step back and realize how lucky they are.  The simple act of rolling out of bed and going for a run is something many of us take for granted, yet it’s something that countless people are unable to do.  Taking the time to truly enjoy a runor race (regardless of how you perform) can do world of good for any runner.  Forget about your pace, run with a friend, don’t wear a watch…whatever it takes to get you out of a hyper competitive mindset and into one of “Run for Fun”.  So moving forward I challenge all of you to take the steps to get back to the roots of running and why it’s the first thing any child tries to do once the can walk: BECAUSE ITIS FUN!

  This really bothered me and I kept pushing it thinking that I could make up for the lost time.  Then it clicked…why risk further injury and disappointment?  There will always be next year, or the year after that, and plenty of race to set a new P.R.  That is when I really let myself relax and just run for fun.  Training runs, races, and everything else became more enjoyable when I stopped worrying about pace, distance, etc. and just ran.  It was really nice to get back to the roots of why I started running in the first place: there is nothing like it.  That feeling of just getting out and the magical, euphoric state that comes with a stress free run.

  Yes I did still try to run well but I put a lot less focus on training and just enjoyed the overall race experience more than ever. 

This has never been clearer to me than this past race season.  After overcoming some injuries and getting thru an over-scheduled end of 2015 I was looking forward to crushing a spring marathon.  However it became pretty clear in February that this wasn’t going to happen.  For a while I kept

  After running a 2:39 marathon in early 2015 I was set on breaking the 6 min/mile average (sub 2:37) in the beginning of 2016. 

Getting Back Up

No matter how prepared you are, well you’ve trained, or confident you feel going into a race sometimes things just call apart.  The 2015-2016 race season was by far the busiest and most taxing one I have put together.  Plenty of races went just as planned, some better than I expected, and of course there were those races that were just disasters.  The most recent race to put me thru the wringer was Tomoka Marathon in Ormond Beach, FL on 3/26/16.
Going into this race I felt great. I was returning to a race I had won the year before, had a good base of training, completed a 15 miler at 6:31 average the week before, knew what to expect from the course, and was just amped to be running my favorite marathon again. Everything was going exactly as I had planned: rolling thru the first 5-6 miles around a 6:25 pace I felt relaxed and strong.  But that was soon to change.  At an aid station I accidentally grabbed a cup of electrolytes instead of water but instead of skipping the fluids I drank it.  Since I was planning on it being Gatorade I figured “Okay not my favorite but I know my body can handle it.” Well turns out it wasn’t Gatorade (it was Heed) and within a couple minutes I knew it wasn’t going to sit well with me.  I tried to push thru but as time went on my stomach kept getting more and more knotted till between mile 9-10 I stopped and vomited.  The next 17 miles were a run-puke-walk-run-walk-puke-run death march.  Least to say this was not a very fun race and one I should have dropped out of. I eventually finished sometime north of 4 hours and with pretty bad dehydration.
Am I disappointed in how the run went? Yes. Am I going to let it affect me, or what I think of this event, in a negative way? Hell no.
You can’t let one subpar run or race defeat you.  No matter how poorly something may go you have to look at the bigger context of your training schedule, race season, and life. Yes we’re all going to struggle and fail at times but that does not mean we have lost.  As long as you get back out there and keep running you have not lost.  It may take you a few days, weeks, or (gasp!) months to get back into the swing of things after a poor race, finish of a race season, or recovery from injury BUT the important thing is getting back out there.  For me this turnaround from post-race thoughts of taking Boston super easy, calling this season a wrap, and going into a recovery month only took a night’s sleep.  The day after Tomoka the first thing I thought when I woke up is “I have unfinished business”.  If took less than 24 hours for me to go from dehydrated, vomiting, and just generally over running for the season to ready to attack the Boston Marathon in less than 3 weeks.  It really is amazing what a good night’s sleep along with a ton of water and some beer can do for you. Although I have been dealing with little knee issue and haven’t gotten the quality workouts in I would have like I am going to cross the Boston starting line and run like I know I can.  Will this be a P.R. race, No. But will I leave it all out there and have a blast doing it? Yes.
I guess what I am trying to get at here is that no matter how badly you may fail in any endeavor you’ve just gotta pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and put those shoes on and run like there is no tomorrow!

February 2016 Race Reviews

Everyone has that one event, or few events, that they look forward to every year. For me that event is the Publix Gasparilla Distance Classic (PGDC) held in Tampa FL in late February.  I’ve run 100s of races all over the US, international events, but PGDC has been my favorite event for the past 3 years for several reasons…
1)      There is a Distance and Event for Everyone.  Whether you are an experienced distance runner, first time 5ker, Olympian (Dathan Ritzenhein and Abdi Abdirahman both ran in 2015), or just enjoy getting out for walk with a few thousand friends PGDC has something for you. There are 4 races throughout the weekend: 15k and 5k the first day followed by a half marathon and 8k on the second.  You can sign up for any individual race OR…here is the fun part...do a ‘Challenge’ option.  The Michelob Ultra Lime Cactus Challenge is the 15k and 8k for a total of 14.2 miles; the Mich. Ultra Amber Challenge is the 15k, 5k, and Half for 25.5 miles, and my personal favorite the Mich. Ultra Challenge.  This is the ‘Grand Slam’ event of all 4 races (15k, 5k, Half, & 8k) for a total of 30.4 miles over 2 days.  With a total of 7 event options there really is something for everyone and anyone.

2)      Best Value Race Around.  Hands down Publix Gasparilla Distance Classic gives you the best bang for your buck. All the events are fairly priced and actually inexpensive if you sign up early and the swag is THE BEST.  Awesome tech shirt, custom bib, reusable shopping bag, unique medal for every distance, finish line photo op with pirates, and post-race food and beer (as well as other beverages).
Signing up for a challenge will just multiple the amount of swag you go home with.  Regardless of the challenge you chose you will get a shirt for each corresponding race as well as a unique Challenge jacket and finishers medal.  So if you run all 4 races you’ll go home with 4 shirts, a jacket and 5 medals!
And we keep going…for those of you who run in the Top 10% of your age group for any race you can claim a PGDC Top 10% coffee mug to remind you every morning of your accomplishment.  Plague awards are also given top performers in every race, challenge series, military divisions, and corporate challenges.  THEN several weeks later the top 5 in every age group will get a custom award engraved with your name and age group place for the race.
It should also be noted that the shirts, jackets, medals, and awards are all very well designed and feature different designs every year.
I’m not kidding…Publix Gasparilla Distance Classic goes above and beyond to reward their runners.

3)      Flawless Organization.  The PGDC crew really has figured out how to orchestrate a world class event.  They handle over 30,000 runners, separate start lines that use a common finish line, multiple start waves, elite start coral, fluid/fuel/aid stations, and general course management as well as anyone in the business. I could go into infinite detail about how well produced this weekend is but won’t bore you with that…just know I have not heard one complaint in 3 years.

4)      After Party.  One of my favorite parts of any race.  The post-race party is held in a close by park and features the awards ceremony, live bands, DJ, and an all-around good time.  Stopping by for a post-race beer and the chance to hang out with other runners is a must for both days regardless of if you ran or not!  Here’s a little secret…after you wait out the line for your free Mich Ultra stop by the Ulele tent and snag a free craft beer sample. The brewmaster (Tim Shackton) makes some incredible beers and hey more free beer!

5)      Weather.  Weather is something that can be drastically different year to year but every year I’ve run PGDC there has been great weather.  Especially for those in cold winter climates Tampa offers a beautiful mid-winter get away.

6)      Course.  All the courses are run along the bay and offer nice water views of the bay and downtown Tampa.  Also with predawn race starts for the 15k and Half runners get a beautiful sunrise during their run.  All courses are also flat and very fast so this is the perfect place to set a P.R.

7)      Everyone is Nice.  This one is pretty self-explanatory but PGDC really sticks out as an event that everyone you come into contact with…runners, volunteers, police, professional athletes (both Meb and Shalane were congratulating runners at the end of races this year), spectators, EVERYONE…is happy and has nothing but nice things to say.

These are main reasons that Publix Gasparilla Distance Classic has come to be my favorite event.  It’s an event I am already looking forward to running next year and competing once again for the Michelob Ultra Challenge title.  I hope to see you Feb 24-26 in Tampa for the 2017 edition of the Publix Gasparilla Distance Classic!

January 2016 Race Reviews

The first month of 2016 has been a very busy one for me.  I ran the highest mileage week of my life (80+), competed in 5 races (5k, 50k, mile, 10k, and marathon), set P.R.s in both the 50k and mile, all within the highest mileage month (230+) of my running career.  For me that was a lot, maybe even a little too much, running.  I have typically hovered right around the 45-50 mile per week mark with a total around 175-180 per month.  Although the extra 30+ miles may not seem like a lot it took more out of me than I expected.  The toll of extra mileage did not manifest physically in slower runs or fatigue but it did zap my motivation.  This was a completely unexpected effect and one I am just starting to get over.

But before I get sidetracked here is why I started writing this post…January Race Reviews.

1)      Polar Bear 5k:  I ran a 17:10 on New Year’s Day which I was happy with.  I was using this small, local race just as a predictor to gauge my short-distance fitness.  And overall I was happy with 2nd place and a good workout.

2)      Savannah Rails to Trails 50k: This was an awesome race!  It’s held Cockspur Island outside Savannah GA and is run mostly on grass trails and a hard pack converted railway (hence the Rails to Trails name).  As this race was the week before the Bermuda Triangle Challenge I was looking to get a good 20 mile run in than back off the pace and make sure I recovered well.  I managed to do all of that while running my first sub 4 hour 50k and coming in 2nd overall.  But even more enjoyable than the running was reconnecting with some of the incredible people in the ultra-community I hadn’t seen in a while.  If you haven’t forayed into this type of running it is something to consider.  I have found a 50k (31 miles) is much more strenuous than a marathon so be prepared.  I have also found the ultra and trail running communities tend to be more laid back and willing to ‘just go with it’ which can be a nice change from the high intensity road racing venues I’m more accustomed to.  It’s always nice to switch it up every now and again. 

3)      Bermuda Marathon Weekend: By far one of my favorite events. For the past 2 years I have participated in the Full Triangle Challenge which is a mile, 10k, and marathon spread over 3 days.  My goal this year was to run a faster combined time (see Setting Goals in 2016) than I did last year and I am very pleased to have accomplished that.  I was overall about 8 minutes faster than last year and in the process P.R.ed my mile (5:03), won the men’s marathon, and the overall Triangle Challenge.

a.         The Front Street Mile is one of the coolest races around…it starts, passes, and finishes in front of huge crowds of locals and visiting athletes.  It can make anyone feel like an all-star athlete.  After the Challenge mile (which includes all tourists as well as some locals) races are held for the local school kids, local adults, and an elite invitational race. This really is one of the most fun races to participate in and watch.

b.      The Bermuda 10k is a very tough race that has a great mix of locals, tourists, and invited elites.  This course has two major climbs that really made me remember exactly how flat the Lowcountry is.  One of my favorite parts about this race (and weekend) is the 10k record holder Geoff Smith (Olympian and 2x Boston winner) comes back every year to run.  If you ever need a good excuse to get away from winter weather definitely check out this race!

c.       The Bermuda Marathon.  On both attempts at this course I have been humbled and more or less got my ass kicked.  This course has continual rolling hills mixed in with some more aggressive climbs and drops.  With incredible views, great crowd support, and overall phenomenal tour of the island this double loop course definitely does not disappoint.  I lucked out this year and no elites ran the marathon so a time of 3:07:22 was good enough to win the men’s race.

So overall I was more than happy with how I ran at this month’s events.  However my favorite part, as it almost always is, was getting to reconnect with old and make new friends along the way.  Every time I’m at a race I’m blown away by how amazing this community is.  Hanging out and getting to know other runners is what keeps me hooked and look forward to the next race.  So thank you for being part of this running community… it has done wonders for me and thousands of other people!

Be sure to subscribe to The American Runner email list (theamericanrunner.com) to be kept up to date.  Next up will be ‘Staying Motivated Thru Year-round Racing’…an issue I have been dealing with more and more of recent…