Wednesday, December 21, 2011


I've been working on this off and on for a while, and with the end of the year it seems appropriate to touch on setting goals. Really, everyone sets goals all the time, but when it comes to pushing themselves in a new direction, setting goals becomes very hard and may even seem mysterious.

Here's the deal - there's nothing magical about setting goals. The key is understanding what your goal is and breaking it up into parts that you can achieve.

What is a goal
This may seem silly, but seriously, a goal has a formula: there's an acronym people use SMART
  • Specific - A goal is something concrete, easily defined with very little room for ambiguity
  • Measurable - A goal can easily be measured, it's easy to know when you've reached your goal.
  • Achievable - A good goal is one that you really think you can hit, not one that you you seriously doubt is possible
  • Realistic - A good goal is one that has basis in reality, a goal to get out and start running, so you can do your first marathon at the end of the week isn't.
  • Time bound - A good goal has a defined time limit
Many people seem to confuse goals with desires. A desire is usually very undefined and almost always lofty. For example, you may say your goal is to be skinny. That goal fails several of the SMART tests. You could rephrase that and say that your goal is to loose five founds in two months.That goal passes all of the SMART tests. I find that usually desires are made up of several goals. So you may desire to be skinny, and then you come up with several goals that will help you get there.

My Example Goal
I use goals to drive me all the time in almost all aspects of my life. So I figure I'll layout one of my goals for my next triathlon season and then break it down.

Goal - Finish one race in the top 5 in my age group at a sprint distance. Test it
  • Specific - Not really, top 5 depends on the race. If I define this no better I will have no idea how to get to this goal.
  • Measurable - Yes
  • Achievable - Maybe, depends on how much better I have to get
  • Realistic - Maybe, it depends on how close the goal I am already
  • Time Bound - This season, it's not very specific. Seriously, I'm already of thinking of putting off starting this till July. We'll say, not time bound enough :)
I'll call this one a dream for right now. First I need to get specific. The race that is closest to me, and the first triathlon I ever did is as good an option as any. So, I choose the Lakefront Days triathlon. It's not scheduled yet, but it's the same weekend as Lakefront days which is 8/4. I've chosen a race, and know exactly when I will need to be ready for it. There's still some room for specifics, as right now I have no idea how fast top 5 is.

This season I'll be in the 35 as far as USAT is concerned. Top 5 times in that age group: 1:16:16, 1:16:17, 1:17:36, 1:19:22, 1:19:37

So now I know exactly what my goal is. Finish the lakefront days triathlon in under 1:19:37. Now sure, that may not ensure a top 5 finish, but then again I don't have control over the other racers, so I will have to settle with a very concrete goal to shoot for.

Is this achievable? Last year I finished the race in 1:19:41. That's only 4 seconds, very achievable, this also makes this a realistic goal.

Re-evaluate your goals
So here's the deal, this goal has become too easy to get. I could pick up 5 seconds by just streamlining transition. Last year a got a little confused in the second transition, and I actually turned around and went back to my stuff to pick something up. If I only want to shave 5 seconds I could just skip that little step. So I'm going to say that my new goal is to win the age group. That's a 3:21 jump.

Is this goal achievable? Well I need to break it down a little more to see, I'm probably not going to pick it all up in the same place. Here are my detailed stats about this race from last year
Swim 1/4 mile - 6:41 that's 1:31 per hundred yards
T2 - 2:32. That includes a jog from the lake to the transition area
Bike 13.5 miles - 40:58 that's 19.8 miles per hour
T2 - 1:27
Run 3.3 miles - 28:06 that's 8:31 per mile

To drop 3:21 from that I'll have to pull from all segments
Swim - 1:25 pace. That puts me at 6:14, there's 27 seconds.
Bike - 20.75 mph. That puts the bike at 39:02, there's 1:56
Run - 8:20 mins/mile. That puts the run at 27:30, there's another 36 seconds

So that adds up to 2:59. I will need to make up 20 seconds on transitions. It is no exaggeration that if I drop 10 seconds in each transition I will still be slower than most people.

The swim - that's a very fast pace. But swimming is by far my strongest leg, I held that close to the old pace for just over a mile last year at Maple Grove, so if I can hold that pace for a mile, I can pick up the pace for a quarter of a mile without worrying about taking it out too fast.

The bike - that will be my fastest bike split to date. But this is near the end of the season, and I know I can ride that fast. I just need to transition that knowledge to a race. I am confident I can do this.

The run - again at Maple Grove I held that old pace for twice as long. Plus my fastest 5k time is a full three minutes faster than that, so I can gut it out.

I'm going to call this both achievable and realistic.

Some extra notes
When setting goals, don't go crazy. It is very easy to go nuts making goals for every single little thing in your life, or every tiny detail. I took a desire and turned it into 4 very specific goals, and it just so happens I need to chain those together in rapid succession. If you were doing your first duathlon, your goal may simply be to finish. But you still need to the do rest.
  • Specific - Choose a specific duathlon
  • Measurable - If you finish you will have met your goal
  • Achievable - Choose one that is in your ability level. Shy away from one that is longer than you like to drive per day
  • Realistic - A sprint distance duathlon, as long as you can walk and ride a bike, you'll be fine
  • Time bound - Sign up for that race, it puts an exact date you need to be done by
Re-evaluate your goals often. As you make progress toward your goal, you may realize that your goal needs to be adjusted. Perhaps finishing isn't the goal anymore, maybe now the goal is to jog instead of walk. Keeping your goals something you have to work toward, while still in the realms of possibilities, will keep you motivated.

Don't beat yourself up. Occasionally you will fail to meet your goal. Don't worry about it, last year I set several running goals that I totally biffed on, not even close. So I just set my eyes on the next one. It wouldn't be a goal if it was easy to do. Honestly, winning my age group on Lakefront days will be a huge accomplishment for me, there is a chance of failure, but that's what keeps me going.

Do it
We're about a week away from the new year. Make your resolutions, and then break them up in to goals. I'd say a year-long resolution probably has six to twelve intermediate goals. Keep focused on your goals, and when you look up at the end of the year, I'm betting you will have tackled that resolution head on. You can do it!

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