If you’ve ever gone to the grocery store without a list while you’re, you know how crazy and chaotic it can be. In the store you’ll be going up and down each aisle, carefully looking at everything on the shelves, running a mental checklist of sorts. Some aisles, you might even have to come back to. And when you come home you will immediately realize you forgot to buy laundry detergent, or now you have three quarts of yogurt instead of just two. You’ll end up buying junk you don’t need, but looked yummy on the shelf. If you really want to be efficient and get the most out of your trip to the market so you’re not wasting time and gas to make another trip just a couple of days later, you’ll probably make a list.
So is it a list that can help make us succesful runners? Sort of, not exactly. I’m willing to guess that 99% of the time any given runner will have a given goal. It could be a race goal, a mileage goal, whatever kind of goal. We runners set these little carrots out to help give us motivation while at the same time directing our efforts. So while our goals may not be the same, we all have them.
The trick is to know what goals are really important, which ones can be missed without too much worry, and how to set them realistically. Individually, it can be difficult to have the foresight to recognize and set longterm goals: yearly mileage, a 5-year marathon time goal, a rehab goal. We can think about them, and we may even set them, but working towards them can get lost in the shuffle and the completion of immediate goals that at the time seem much more rewarding. Having a third-party work through goals can help steer an athlete in the right direction and keep things on track. To the runner, it might seem more important to run their first sub-4 marathon despite running through injury. A good coach would see it in a different light and instead focus in on a 5-year goal of a sub-3:30 marathon.
Further, it is important to set realistic goals while at the same time, not setting goals that are sub-par. When I set out to make goals for a given race or a week or month of training, I give three different goals: an ‘A’ goal, a ‘B’ goal, and a ‘C’ goal. A ‘C’ goal is pretty low-end. It’s kind of a safety net. Not everyday goes according to plan, and sometimes, they go abysmally awful. A ‘C’ goal is one that would most likely be achieved even on one of your awful days. It allows an athlete to look back at their race, week, month, year, and come away with some sense of accomplishment. A ‘B’ goal is the most realistic goal. It takes into account little hiccups during training and race day. It leaves some room for error, it is achievable but still requires 100% of your effort. Finally, an ‘A’ goal is one of those goals that you can achieve, but don’t expect them to happen all the time. We all have breakout races, but not every race can be a breakout. ‘A’ goals require all systems healthy and working together, plus a little bit of luck.
It is important – and this is why having a third-party involved – that goals are achievable, but not too easy. If we set our goals too high, even our ‘C’ goals, get ready for some disappointment. Too much disappointment and it becomes all too easy to lose sight of what’s important and suddenly running has lost its joy. It’s also important not to set our goals too low. In part because constantly achieving your goals can also get boring, but because if we don’t fully challenge ourselves, we won’t fully succeed.
Goals can be anything. They don’t always have to revolve around time or miles. They can be measured by time, or heart rate, injuries, types of workouts. Maybe it’s devoting one workout a week to hills. Or forcing yourself onto the track once a month. All athletes are different and all of our goals will be different. The important part is to set them, and make them realistic while at the same time challenging ourselves. So get out your log book, and jot down some of your goals. Make a list and keep it handy; work with your coach and have them help keep you accountable.