By Darcie Murphy,
CTS Ultrarunning Senior Coach
Goal setting comes naturally to many ultrarunners and endurance athletes, almost like it’s in our DNA. If you’re resistant to setting specific goals, don’t worry. I can absolutely relate. For years I avoided New Year’s resolutions or formal goal setting sessions. I just wanted to ‘have fun’ playing in the mountains and trails and staying fit. That worked, to a degree, and I still don’t readily embrace the term ‘goal’. I prefer ‘objective’. However, it can be liberating to decide on pursuing a few specific objectives before each season. If you’re not convinced, keep reading and consider the following benefits of goal setting. Both the article and a formal goal setting session (or a few) are worth the time.
Benefit: Goals outlast motivation
Goals are a solid support to lean on when motivation wanes. Let’s be real, every athlete struggles at some point with the motivation to get out the door. It’s important to recognize those moments and take note of them in your training log. There’s a time to push through that dip in enthusiasm, and a time to rest. But, if you can’t clearly see the bigger picture, it’s easier to skip a workout or a string of workouts. In the end you may regret skipping those training sessions.
Concrete goals provide accountability when the alarm goes off or you must make some sacrifices along the way. Essentially, goals free you from having to think so much about your day-to-day activities. You’ve already decided on the small steps required to achieve your main objective.
Benefit: Goals focus your attention
Defining your intentions narrows your focus so you’re not simultaneously trying to master too many ultramarathon skills at once. Many of you can maintain a singular focus for weeks and months at a time. I applaud you. I also know runners who would clone themselves, if possible, just to be able to run, ride and ski simultaneously. Having planned objectives quiets the voices that question whether you’re doing the best thing in the moment. This isn’t to suggest that an ultrarunner should never engage in an activity besides running. Rather, if you set a goal to improve an aspect of trail running, then use the goal to backstop decisions about activity choices.
When it comes to training objectives, the more specific the better. Goal specificity allows you to know what and how to practice to be successful. If you want to be a better climber, you could increase the volume of time spent climbing or add uphill running intervals. You might consider adding strength exercises to enhance your posterior kinetic chain power, for example.
Some runners can maintain a particular focus for months at a time. Others are more easily distracted by other training modalities or by what friends are doing. Knowing what you want to accomplish benefits all types of runners.
Benefit: Goals create periods of rest
Achieving a goal gives you an opportunity to step back and rest. Without knowing what you’re trying to do, you won’t know when to stop trying, right? When you define intentions ahead of time, you can check the box and then relax and enjoy your success, briefly. Many athletes perpetually engage in a struggle to be ‘better’, ‘faster’, ‘leaner’. While those are fine general reasons for training, dive deeper and determine why and what you’re struggling for. Why do you want to be faster right now? Does that align with other values you adhere to?
Digging into the details helps break down the process of moving toward attainment and makes the approach seem less overwhelming. Understanding the reasons behind the general goals also gives us reasons to celebrate the small successes along the way.
Taking time to recognize the smaller achievements contributed to enhancing your motivation to reach your ultimate goal. It becomes a self-perpetuating cycle. And, once you arrive at that goal, check the box and take the opportunity to unwind in that triumph.
Benefit: Goals provide milestones to review
Goals offer a clear view in hindsight of what you accomplished with your time and energy. There are innumerable devices for collecting data and I suspect many of you recently peeked at your annual Strava statistics. It’s understandable that most athletes enjoy reflecting on what they’ve done within a given timeframe. It’s incredibly satisfying to see how much work and progress you’ve made during a month, a year, or several years.
With a narrowed focus on intentions, it’s easier to highlight improvements among all those miles and metrics. Importantly, your objectives should take you beyond distance and hour metrics. Dig into metrics and subjective feedback to determine where you improved as an athlete and person, not just covering ‘x’ distance at ‘y’ pace.
This process is like resting after you’ve reached your goal; it can inspire enthusiasm for the next goal-setting process. So, map out those goals and measure your progress as a runner so you can continue creating forward momentum.
Maybe you had an exhaustive flow chart for each goal on January 1. Perhaps you prefer to be less structured. Either way, it behooves you to know what you’re planning to accomplish as the season stares you in the face. Embrace the opportunity and do yourself the favor of mapping out a game plan. If you’re not sure what your own goal setting process entails, there are many resources at your fingertips. Undoubtedly, any of our coaching staff would love to be a part of your 2022 goal-setting procedure. Don’t waste time, set up your game plan and make 2022 a great year!