Saturday, 10 August 2013

My latest Vetrunner article - Goal setting

Posted by speedygeoff on Saturday, August 10, 2013 with No comments
Goal Setting and Delayed Gratification.
If you want to motivate yourself to train, you need to set some goals. These goals need to be realistic and achievable.

Case 1. An unrealistic goal.
A runner wishes to run a 20 minutes 6k. Maybe her friend can run that time and she has decided to get as fast as this friend. She wants to stretch herself, good, but the goal time she has chosen is well beyond her capabilities, bad. So every time she trains, if she feels strong enough, she pushes far too hard. When she competes in a race, she starts off way too fast. Because of her hard training, she makes some initial progress. But because she works so hard, her rest and recovery cycles are compromised, which means her times stop improving and it takes more and more effort to sustain what little improvement she has made. In due course, the inevitable outcome is exhaustion, burn-out, injury, and disillusionment.

On the other hand, if the goal isn’t much of a challenge, there may be reasons for the coach to suggest something a bit more difficult and long term. Perhaps the runner races all the time and has come to expect their plateau to continue indefinitely. A bit of a focus might help the runner to be training more consistently and more to a plan.

Or perhaps the runner simply has a short term outlook, without terribly much commitment.

Case 2. A realistic goal achievable straight away.
Here we have a second runner who has not broken 45 minutes for 10k and is set on achieving this. It has become her life goal. She sets out on a 16 week plan to build a decent base and to get fitness levels up; the plan is to make a sub 45 minute 10k relatively easy for her. However 4 weeks in her first time trial – which for this runner just has to be 10k – she achieves her goal, and celebrates, and promptly gives up training.

The problem here was that the runner couldn’t see that she had much more potential for improvement. If that didn’t interest her, at the very least she could have gone into maintenance mode to keep her fitness levels up until a new goal comes to mind.

Setting a specific goal like this is good, but training and racing with just the final goal as the focus is not. There is a problem if every run, just about every day, is an attempt to achieve the goal. Much better is the approach that sees each day’s run as part , an important part, of the process which will eventually lead to the goal being achieved.

Case 3. Step by step improvement.
A third runner has a goal in mind, but the focus is on what running or other training is to be achieved today. She is happy to keep on laying the foundation by following the plan day after day and being patient about achieving her ultimate goal in due course. She has faith that when the day comes it will all come together and the goal will be achieved. So she is content to work on her training and ensure that her recoveries are such that she keeps building her fitness from week to week until she is ready. And when she comes to the big test, she is fresh and confident.

I see all these behaviours in the athletes I coach. And we probably think and act like any one of these three from time to time. Try and be “Case 3”! Get a plan, check it out with and be accountable to a coach, stick to the plan, have infinite patience, and know that with good goals and a good process you can do it. Today is but a stepping stone in preparation for tomorrow.

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