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.


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!