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!