How to Set Smart Goals for a Race
Goal-setting is a critical part of any athletic training program. It’s important not only for the end objective, ie, the goal race, but also for the training process itself.
Outcome vs process
When it comes to races, athletes and coaches often focus singularly on the end result (outcome goal). While they are important and need to be formulated, goals within a race — also called process goals — are also vital.
Some examples of process goals are:
- Remember to eat a gel at 19km
- Feel good at 35km
- Get to the halfway point in two hours
Process goals lead to the outcome goal (say, finishing in the top 50 in a race). They are important for breaking the event up mentally for the runner, helping them to focus better. Races such as half marathons, marathons, and especially ultramarathons take quite a bit of time to complete. Therefore, process-based goals help keep a runner engaged throughout the race.
The goal(s) that a runner selects has everything to do with their affinity for risk. For example, if an athlete has a high affinity for risk, they would likely push toward the high end of their ability during a race. Conversely, a runner with a low affinity for risk will possibly run at a conservative pace. This aspect of goal-setting is often left out when athletes determine what their goals are.
Keeping it real
Goals, whether conservative or risky, should be based on an athlete’s physiology and mental readiness. As the name suggests, a goal should always have a challenge associated with it, but the “challenge” needs to be realistic and individualized, ie, tailored for the particular athlete.
It’s also important that an athlete has the physiological capacity to attain these goals. For instance, if a runner’s best km-time is 10 min/km, but they want to run 7 min/km, the goal is clearly not aligned with their physical (and mental) capabilities. Also, if you are adopting a strategy at the high end of your ability, be mentally prepared to reconcile yourself if you fall short.
It is wise for an athlete to participate in a “tune-up” race(s) before the goal race. It helps
- Keep an athlete motivated throughout the training process
- Act as trial fueling and race strategy
- Experience a real race setting to reduce anxiety for the goal race (most applicable to new runners)
- Benchmark fitness in a real race scenario
Like a goal race, preparation races too, should have goals. Whether it is a particular finishing time or going through the pre-race process to establish familiarity, preparation for race goals can be quite useful. Other common interim goals are:
- Successfully completing a particular mileage run
- Staying injury-free
- Completing a set distance in a particular time or run at a target pace
- Lose “x” number of kilos in weight by a set point in the training process
Be ready to sacrifice
As noted above, a goal should not be easy to achieve. There should be some sort of challenge and sacrifice associated with it. Whether it be getting up early to run before work, skipping the after-work drinks with colleagues, or even saying no to junk food, you’d likely give up on some things you like to achieve the best from your training program.
Therefore, when formulating a goal(s), an athlete must honestly ask themselves if they are willing to make the needed sacrifices to reach their goal. If not, another goal should be identified.
What’s your connection?
It’s not enough to randomly select a goal race. You should have a connection with the race you sign up for. Otherwise, you’d find yourself hard put to go on in the 22nd kilometer of a marathon. When you feel like giving up, the motivation comes from your connection with the race — perhaps you promised your wife and kids that you’d finish, or are raising money for your favorite charity. These are things that can help motivate you to keep pushing to the finish line.
Below are some examples of being connected:
- The race has been your lifelong goal
- It’s a local race and all your family and friends will be there to cheer you on
- It’s the qualifier race to get into the Boston Marathon
To sum up, goal-setting for a race is like a rehearsal for the actual event. If a new runner is targeting a marathon, it is advisable for them to participate in a 10K or half-marathon during the training process. While a tune-up race is not a prerequisite from the standpoint of being physically prepared, it gets runners acquainted with pre-race jitters, pacing, proper pre-race and race fueling, as well as the process of recovery.