Why did that race not go as planned? I have had that thought several times in my running career. Is the race not going as planned, or is it more that I did not begin my training by setting proper race goals?
Setting proper race goals begins with the training plan. As I look back over races where I achieved my dreams, my training plans were built around realistic expectations and training specificity.
The principle of specificity states that sports training should be relevant and appropriate to the sport for which the individual is training in order to produce the desired effect. … Essentially, specificity training means that you must perform the skill in order to get better at it. When it comes to running, this means…race is on hills = train on hills, race is in the heat = train in the heat. (Defined on verywellfit.com)
When I achieved my goals, my training plans were founded on establishing proper training paces and allowing for a small amount of natural progression in my ability as the training weeks unfolded. In training leading up to not-so-successful races, I lacked focus on training paces. Instead, my main goal was purely to achieve higher weekly mileage. This training approach is entirely acceptable if the goal is to cross the finish line. However, as these race dates approached, I began to formulate unrealistic time goals that had no connection to the results of my training plan. In other words, I got caught up in the excitement of the upcoming race and how I would like to finish but was not capable of at that moment.
Before beginning any training plan or racing season, I write down my planned races. I not only set goals for each race but set progression goals for the entire season. My loftier goals either come at the end of a training cycle or the racing season. It can be easy to get excited about an upcoming season or training plan, but if I don’t think through my schedule and goals first, I find that I never quite reach what I set out to achieve. Dreaming grand accomplishments in my mind is great, but putting them on paper and building my training plan around these goals creates both accountability and opportunity for reflection during and after the season.
I set several goals for every training cycle and almost every race. For example, my recent training and racing goals for the Canyons 100k were sub-12 hour finish (goal A), sub-15 hour finish (B), and finish for my Western States 100 qualifier (C).
As I progressed through training toward this race, I kept these goals in mind. I set up training paces based on what would allow me to achieve Goal A. However, when I could not take as much time as desired to train my ability to climb, I knew this goal would be a stretch to achieve in races like Canyons 100k. The race features 16,000 feet of elevation gain, and without training specificity, the course would present as more of a challenge to me. Before the race started, I settled with Goal A being out of reach and focusing on achieving either Goal B or C.
My result of Canyons 100k was 14:44:44, just under my B goal of sub-15 hours. The development of the race was much more than just the time goal, though. With the proper time to set goals initially, track my progress toward the goals throughout training, and adjust my plans accordingly, the result was a 100k race where I truly enjoyed the journey from start to finish.
There are other achievable goals than running a specific time in an upcoming race. And, it may come as a shock, but there are other goals you can set besides just those related to pounding the pavement or trails! What might those goals be?
(1) Overall Fitness
In the middle of planning our race calendar and training plan, are we considering our overall fitness? As runners, we often neglect the importance of strength training, cross-training, and other activities that may complement our running. Maintaining our overall fitness does require spending time on other activities besides running. When we complete these complementary activities, we are improving both our bodies and minds, the latter being very critical to a long and successful race season. To re-kindle the interest in a sport from your past, join a recreational soccer or softball league, or plan to attend a weekly yoga or spinning class at your local gym. Mix it up, have fun, and watch your overall fitness soar!
(2) Improve Nutrition
We run to eat or drink! I’m sure you have heard or used this line many times before, but have you stopped to consider how your eating habits could be impacting your performance and ability to reach your running goals. It’s not to say that we should not enjoy mixing both eating and running. However, we should be mindful of what we are eating and how much. I know in the weeks that I have a few fewer drinks and bowls of ice cream, I feel better and perform more to my expectations. Plan ahead and prep your nutrition just like you plan your run training.
(3) Impact Your Community
It’s easy to get so focused on our training plan and running goals that we forget about all those that support the running community and us. Take time to welcome new runners into your group runs, volunteer for a park clean-up, volunteer at races, or say thank you to those who support your crazy running habit and dreams!
(4) Becoming a Smarter Runner
Just like reading this article on Setting Proper Race Goals, invest in your running performance by taking time to educate yourself. Make it a goal to read a new book, watch an inspirational documentary, or attend a running or fitness clinic/camp. We will never become so experienced as runners that we can not learn something new. The sport is still evolving, technologies are changing, and our bodies are constantly changing as well.