Goal setting

“So what are your goals for NEXT year?”

Whether it comes from your boss, best friend, spouse, or from your own inner voices. If you’ve been an endurance athlete for any amount of time, you have been asked this question.

But how often do you stop and really think about your goals and go through a goal-setting process, either on your own or with your coach?  Since you will be likely spending a lot of time, money and effort on your training and racing, you should spend some time during the off-season setting up some quality goals.  If you do go through a formal process of goal setting, I truly believe you will have a more rewarding season next year.

In order to set good quality goals, I’m going to borrow a page from my business school days and suggest that endurance athletes adopt the SMARTER framework for setting their goals.

For those who may not have been inducted in the corporate culture (or may have had those memories surgically removed), I’ll start with a brief explanation of what SMARTER goals mean.

The SMARTER framework is simply a mnemonic for setting objectives.  While there are numerous meanings for each letter, I’ll use the following common terms in this article

  • S – Specific
  • M – Measurable
  • A – Agreed
  • R – Realistic
  • T – Time Based
  • E – Excitable
  • R – Rewarded

S – Specific

Many endurance athletes simply list “finish a race” as a goal each year.  This type of goal, while admirable isn’t very specific.  You will want to name the actual race that you plan on finishing.  A person considering her first Olympic-distance triathlon race would list “Finish Red Bank Olympic Distance Race 2013”.  Naming the race helps begin the visualization process for sticking with your training plans.  It also helps set the “T” parameter discussed below.

M – Measurable

A goal that can’t be measured is just a dream, or going back to the business school analogies:  “You can’t manage what you don’t measure”.  Measurements can take on many forms.  Finishing a race is measurable.  You know you’ve achieved it when you cross the finish line!  Other measures can be much more specific.  You can set time goals or time improvement goals for a specific race, shoot for PRs at a specific distance, or even set specific split times in each discipline during a triathlon.

It is also important to set interim measures for the year.  For example, if your goal is to race a PR at an fall Olympic race, you want to set specific goals for your swim, bike, run and transition times that you will use in your training.

A- Agreed

While individuals run most endurance races, it takes a village to get to the start line.  Your training and racing will take time away from other commitments.  Your work, school, family or friends should be involved in the goal setting, and agree with your commitment.  This is especially important for athletes who are setting long-distance goals (Ironman, Ultra-marathon) or are making a run at a world-championship slot.

R- Realistic

Setting a goal of “qualifying for Kona” at your first IM may not be achievable for the majority of amateur athletes.  While it HAS happened, it’s not generally achievable by most people.  A realistic goal is one that you are willing and able to meet.  You want to set a goal that is achievable, but not TOO easy to meet.  This aspect of the goal setting framework is highly personal.  Only you know what is achievable.  But if you truly believe you can reach your goal, you are usually right.

T – Time-Bound

It’s vital to have your goal bound by time. Time-bound goals can be set to a specific race date, or for specific finishing or split times.  For athletes, this aspect is closely tied to the “specific” and “measurable” goal setting items.


Your goals should make you smile!  Your upcoming season is supposed to be a fun and rewarding adventure.  Goals that really make you excited are those that are easier to achieve.  The excitement factor is very important when you are training.  Thinking about your goal, and how you will feel when you reach it can get you through a tough workout, long indoor training session, or that emergency meeting someone scheduled for 4:30pm on a Friday afternoon.

R- Rewarded

Setting and achieving goals are important for development as an athlete, but when the training days get long and hard, it’s nice to be able to think about a nice treat for yourself after you cross the finish line, goal in hand!  New bike?  New “finisher” gear?  Huge-bowl of ice cream?  Long over-due vacation? Long-overdue massage? or a bright red M-dot tattoo?  Your reward should be personal and have some meaning for you!

Use the following table to help you make your goals SMARTER!  Enjoy the planning process, and have a GREAT 2013!

Key Questions Goal Needs Work Goal is Better
Specific What?  Where? I want to do an Olympic triathlon I will complete my first Olympic distance triathlon at the Red Bank event in 2013
Measurable How will you know you succeeded?  How will you know you are on track? I want to do my next sprint race a little bit faster I want to finish the Randolph Sprint race in under 1:45
Agreed Who? My family will support me. I will discuss the goal with my family, my friends and my work teams and enlist their support
Realistic Willing?  Able? I want to qualify for 70.3 worlds in my 1st HIM attempt I will train for and complete my first HIM without injury
Time Bound When?  How Much? I want to finish an Ironman I will finish the IM Florida with a 1:30 swim, 6:30 bike, and 5 hr run
Excitable What winds you up? I like to do triathlons I like to see my running pace get faster!
Rewarded Why?  What is your treat for reaching your goal I’ll be happy when I finish I will take my family on a vacation to the Outer Banks after I finish my race.


The Weekly Review

I’m a huge fan and advocate for David Allen’s “Getting Things Done” (GTD) work-life management system.  Adopting the methodology is a life-long exercise I’ve found.  But really embedding the framework in my life has made me much more productive, focused and (yes) happier.  Or at least much less stressed out.

So how does this apply to endurance sports training?

One of the key tenets of GTD is the weekly review.  There are many different approaches that you can adopt in the weekly review.  I’ve found that taking my 50,000 foot view through three lenses (coaching business growth, work growth, personal growth) helps, and asking myself the following 7 questions about the past week in  each of these categories is essential.

  1. What will I try to improve on next week?
  2. What was I most proud of this week?
  3. What was my biggest accomplishment this week?
  4. What have I done to get closer to my endurance sports goals this week?
  5. What was hard for me this week, and why?
  6. What was my biggest waste of time this week?
  7. What did I do this week that made me ashamed?

I’m not suggesting that you have to swallow the whole GTD enchilada,  but as you work your foam roller on Sunday afternoon, try ask yourself these questions about your training this week, and  makes some notes in your training log.

See where the answers take you.


Couch Surfing is NOT a Sport

So you had a great race season.  You trained hard, raced harder and had great results.  You are heading into the off-season, or may be well into it now.   The offseason is typically a time where you don’t have any significant training goals or events planned.  You may lose some focus on your fitness or even stop exercising entirely.

Instead, why not use the off-season to springboard your way into the 2013 season?

Here are some do’s and don’ts to help you recover, and launch into next year:

  • DON’T completely shut down and ride the couch until the flowers bloom.  You’ll lose a big chunk of the fitness you worked so hard to gain during the season!  If you shut down your training from October through January, it will take you until April to get back your base fitness.
  • DO learn a new sport!  If you are in northern climate, consider learning speed skating, cross-country skiing or snowshoeing.  Look into options for winter triathlons that combine some of these sports.  If you live in a warmer environment, you might look at stand-up paddle boarding, trail running or mountain biking.
  • DON’T be a “Christmas Star” – Piling on hours in the pool, and miles on the trainer or treadmill trying to build “base fitness” will burn you out very quickly.
  • DO something different.  The off season is a good time to try a completely new exercise program.  Look at programs at your local gym or YMCA.  Some local park & recreation groups in communities offer fitness programs as well.  Look for a program that will get your heart rate elevated, and have you moving in multiple dimensions.  Think of programs like Zumba, P90X, Pilates, Yoga or TRX
  • DON’T try to extend your normal swim/bike/run workouts from the main part of your season.  You will risk injury, burn out and limit the potential for a break-through 2013 season
  • DO train like a single sport athlete.  The off season is a great time to work on the weaknesses in one sport.  Having problems with your swim speed?  Train like a swimmer.  Is your run holding you back? Train like a runner.  In both cases, focus on form and drills more than endurance.
  • DON’T ignore any nagging injuries you may have from the racing season.  You need to take active action to heal and recover.
  • DO make friends with your foam roller, Trigger Point massage rollers, or other recovery equipment.
  • DON’T obsess about the data.  Stop scrutinizing your heart rate, caloric burn, pace and power.  If you simply like recording the data, that’s ok just don’t over analyze it.
  • DO spend time in the gym.  Focus on building a strong foundation for next year.  Build strength and power, but not muscular endurance.

Have fun with your fitness this off season, and you’ll come out of the dark & cold, stronger, healthier and ready to take on the world!


Running Scared

We all go into our races with some sort of goal.  Whether it is just to finish, to set a personal best, or to qualify for a prestigious event, endurance athletes seem to be hardwired for goal seeking.  We train for the goal, write it down, tell our friends or sometimes, just keep it to our selves.  But it’s there in our head, and usually at the forefront of our mind on race day.

Then there comes a point in the race where the we will question our ability to hit that goal.  I’m sure it happens to you, just as it happened to me at the Philadelphia marathon last week.  I knew I had the training for a personal best, and had trained with a goal time in mind.  When the weather began to cooperate, I began to really believe I could set a PR and possibly a stretch goal 5 minutes faster.  As the race progressed I focused on each mile, tried to stay loose and smooth, and maintain my fueling and hydration strategy.

Then around the 20 mile mark, I hit the point where fear took over.  I knew that I was not going to be able to hit my stretch goal, and a PR would require me to maintain a pretty aggressive pace.  I was hurting, but I was moving, yet the fear of having to hurt that much, or even more through the end of the race was daunting.

Facing our fears is a big part of why we all do these events.  We know that at some point that we will hurt and have to push through that discomfort to reach our goal.  Doing so is about facing the fear of the pain, and pushing back.

The fear is always much bigger than the reality.  You know it when you sign up for the race, but it seems to grow with each passing mile until you face it and push through it.  It doesn’t take a huge mental effort, tribal scream or some personal mantra to overcome the fear, (though these can help).  Sometimes it’s simply recognizing the fear, acknowledging it and bringing it along for the ride.

So at mile 20, the fear rose up and asked me a question.  It told me that there was no way I could reach my stretch goal, so what was the point of pushing on in pain.  I could give up, jog/walk the last 10k and finish, or I could keep my pace, pick up the last 5k and get a PR.

The fear lies to us and steals our dreams.  It’s up to us to pull back the curtain and reveal it’s insignificance.

I decided to own the fear, and the pain.  I decided it wasn’t “all that” and I wanted the PR more than I wanted to slow down.   And as I made that decision, I knew that that hurt wasn’t going to get worse, that striding out a bit and picking up the pace was going to get me to the finish faster, the fear began to shrink and the pain wasn’t anywhere near as bad as the fear had made it out to be.

I ended the race completely spent, but very happy with an 8 min PR.  And the fear was left standing along Boathouse row, dropped like a sack of rocks.


Getting Ready…

Many of you are getting ready for your “A” race of the year.  I’m getting a barrage of questions about equipment, mostly about when and how much work to do on the bike immediately before a race.

In keeping with the mantra of “nothing new on race day” I would suggest the following:

  • No new “touch points”  – anything that you touch on the bike should NOT be changed immediately before a race.  seat, handlebars, pedals should all remain the same.
  • Do NOT replace cables.  Cables will stretch over the first several rides and may lead to mis-shifting or poor braking.  Unless the cables are very badly worn, save the changes for AFTER race day, and replace cables & housings at the same time
  • Do NOT install a SMALLER gear set – moving from a 12-27 to an 11-23 immediately before your big day is a very bad idea.  You should keep the gearing you have been training in assuming you have been training on terrain similar to your race course.  Moving to a LARGER gear set is a better idea if you feel you need extra bail-out gears..
  • No major drivetrain changes – unless the specific part is broken or very badly worn, leave it alone.  Now is not the time to install new ceramic bearing in your bottom bracket or wheelset.  Too much can go wrong!

All the above are conditional on safety.  If there is anything on your bike is unsafe, then it must be fixed before race day!

So what SHOULD you do prior to race day?  Here is a quick list:

  • Wash that thing!  – You have been putting mega-miles on the bike, it’s time to show it some TLC with a thorough washing and polishing.  The Park Tool website has good instructions for washing your bike:  http://www.parktool.com/blog/repair-help/bike-washing-and-cleaning
  • Properly lubricate the drivetrain.  A must-do after the washing.
  • Safety inspection – check the frame for any cracks, check for a loose headset, check the brake pads for excessive wear, check the tires for cracks, holes or slices, and check the wheels for any wobbles.
  • Replace handlebar tape.  Yeah, I said no new touch points.  This is the ONE exception.  New bar tape is a treat for the eyes and the hands.  If you race without gloves (like I do) nothing really feels as good as fresh bar tape on race morning.