The 2011 race season is just around the corner. If you live in Arizona, or plan on competing in an early season race, you’ve probably already set some early goals for yourself. Before you write your specific goals down in ink, I want you to think about your approach to goals. Why?
Because chances are, you are focusing on targets.
Focusing on Targets: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
Every athlete wants to be successful: it makes training more enjoyable, and it makes our sport more fun. If we see the results of our training manifested as personal bests, higher placements and rewards such as qualifying for a prestigious race (Boston Marathon, Ironman World Championships), we’re likely to continue training hard, or even step up our efforts.
It’s when an athlete fails to reach expectations that the wheels can come off and derail several weeks of training and racing by eroding an athlete’s confidence and passion for the sport.
Here’s an example: A male athlete, having never raced a half-Ironman distance race, sets a goal of breaking 5-and-a-half hours for his first time at the distance. Race day comes, the athlete is on pace for reaching his goal, when he flats about two-thirds of the way through the bike leg. After fumbling with changing his flat, he resumes riding, frustrated. Twenty minutes later, he flats again. Now fuming, because his goal is seemingly out of reach, he seriously contemplates quitting the race. He changes his flat, gets back on the bike, and finishes the bike leg. He is unable to enjoy or focus on the run because he is too busy concentrating on the “what might have been.”
He finishes in 6:20 and change. Regardless of what any of his friends or other athletes tell him, he considers the day, his first half-Ironman, a failure. After a brief rest period, he resumes training, but is constantly nagged by failing to meet his own expectations.
Everyone can have a bad race. There’s a lot in a race that is out of an athlete’s control. Even with new tires, you can get a flat. It’s how we react to what a race dishes out that matters.
Targets vs. goals: Is it time to rethink your approach?
Should athletes set more reachable goals or stop setting goals altogether? No; instead, an athlete can simply change their approach to goal setting. Instead of focusing on targets — those things that are influenced to a large extent by things out of an athletes control — focus on goals. This approach comes from running and mental skills coach, Bobby McGee. Bobby has coached many Olympic triathletes and world class runners.
Targets are those metrics you as an athlete would love to hit if everything goes right, and you race up to your full potential. But, because these things involve aspects such as weather, road conditions, crashes, etc, they should not be considered goals.
Remember, a triathlete’s racing and training goals are those things that are almost entirely within an athlete’s control. For example, the athlete in the half-Ironman example could have set a goal of running the entire half marathon without any walking breaks. For a newer athlete who is not a strong swimmer a good goal might be to complete the swim leg without rolling onto their back.
Which is more important?
Both targets and goals are important as they keep athletes engaged in their training and racing. If an athlete’s training is on pace, and they set aggressive, yet reachable targets, and focus on goals, their season is going to be enjoyable and successful.
For the most recent Ironman Arizona, I had several goals. My first goal was to avoid getting sick on the run course. Second, I had a goal to run the entire marathon without walking. Third, I wanted to enjoy the day, no matter what it dished out. In the back of my mind, I had a target set to break 12 hours. If the stars aligned, and I was having a spectacular day, I thought I may be capable of a low 11 hour, or even sub-11 hour race.
Anyone at IMAZ this year knows the weather was less than ideal; it was unseasonable cool, and windy and rainy.
I kept my targets in the far back of my mind, and instead focused on my goals. The result? I paid closer attention to my nutrition on the bike because I was so focused on not getting sick. I ran the marathon for as long as I could, but when nausea took over, I was forced to walk. Still, I was not physically sick. I concentrated on having as much fun as I could, by focusing on other athletes, the spectators, etc.
I crossed the finish line in less than 12 hours. Did I go as fast as I would have liked? No. But I was not discouraged, nor dwell on what could have been. I achieved my most important goals, and that correlated into a successful race. Had I focused on my targeted finish time, I would have been incredibly discouraged, and may still be wondering why the Iron-gods had forsaken me!
Another great thing about the target and goals approach is that goals aren’t impacted as much as targets if the athlete get injured, or other unexpected and unplanned events affect training. Life always manages to throw all of us curve balls. Unless you’re a full time athlete, chances are your training will see some wrinkles.
So, I encourage you to dig out your racing goals for the season. If your goals are time or place focused, make those your targets, and set some goals for each race to focus on. Chances are you’ll enjoy training and racing more, and your season will end up being more successful.
You can learn more about targets vs. goals from Bobby McGee’s book, Magical Running : A Unique Path to Running Fulfillment