“One of the amazing things we have been given as humans is the unquenchable desire to have dreams of a better life, and the ability to establish goals to live out those dreams.”
- Jim Rohm
Goal setting is the process of deciding where you want to go and mapping out the path to your destination. Without goals, it’s very difficult to find the motivation to follow a successful and consistent training program.
It’s important to keep in mind that for your goals to be effective, they need to be set up as stepping-stones. Each goal needs to build on a previous level of achievement and lead to another, more advanced state of fitness.
It sounds obvious, but you’d be surprised at the number of people who think that they can skip to a high level of training and racing without doing the necessary groundwork to get there. You can’t go from couch potato to an accomplished marathoner without putting in the time and effort to master the basics first.
There’s a time-honoured acronym that helps you choose effective goals which you have probably heard somewhere along the way that uses the word SMART. Here’s an explanation of the SMART goals system.
S is for Specific. In order for a goal to be truly motivating to you, it needs to be specific. For example, a goal such as, “I want to run a marathon,” is not nearly as motivating as a goal statement of, “I want to run the Toronto Marathon in under 4 hours on September 27th this year.” The more specifically you flesh out a goal, the more it takes hold in your mind and the more it will help give you the drive to achieve it.
M is for Measurable. Goals that are objectively measurable are much more likely to spur you to success. Fortunately, when it comes to marathon running, quantifying your goals is easy. The most obvious is to set a time goal, such as running a sub 3-hour marathon or qualifying for the Boston marathon. Another measurable goal would be to run a certain number of miles per week in training. The key is that you need to have an objective way to tell whether you’ve reached your goal or at least how close you are to reaching it.
A is for Attainable. There’s nothing more frustrating that setting an unattainable goal. If you’ve just finished a marathon at full effort in 4:30, setting a goal of breaking 3 hours within the next six months is just asking for frustration and disillusionment.
Choosing an attainable marathon goal can be difficult, but there are many formulas out there to give you an idea of what you might run based on your times for shorter distances. For example, as a conservative estimate, take your best recent 10km time and multiply it by five. Let’s say you can run a 10km in 40 minutes: with proper training, you can probably expect to run 40×5=200 minutes or 3:20 in the marathon.
Another formula for more advanced runners involves adding 5 to minutes to your half marathon time and doubling it. So, if you run 1:30 for the half marathon, you have a realistic chance of running as fast as 1:35×2=3:10 for the marathon.
There are also a plethora of online calculators that allow you to input your time for any shorter distance and get an equivalent marathon performance. In my experience, these calculators often overestimate your potential marathon time simply because the marathon is such a tough race and any problems such as pacing mistakes or difficult weather conditions tend to be have a disproportionate affect on your time in a marathon compared to shorter races.
R is for Relevant. Relevant goals help keep you on track towards your overall vision. Say your overall goal is to set a marathon PR and you set an intermediate goal of improving your best one-mile time. The kind of training you need for a mile race is not helpful in the marathon, so this would be an irrelevant goal. A more relevant intermediate goal for the marathon might be to increase your mileage per week or improve your 10km or half marathon time.
T is for Time-bound. A goal without a deadline is simply a wish. Having a time limit for your goals creates the sense of urgency necessary to get things done. I’m reminded of this principle frequently when writing for clients, I sometimes deliberately set a challenging deadline for myself, otherwise it’s easy to procrastinate.
Fortunately, with marathon running, we have a built-in deadline – the race. I often recommend to runners is that one of the best things they can do for their motivation level is to fill out an entry form and send it in. Once you do this, its official and you no longer have the opportunity to put off your training.
The 3 Keys of Goal Setting
1. Write it down!
Once you’ve chosen a specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound goal, the first thing you should do is write it down. Writing a goal down on paper is one of the most powerful things you do towards achieving it.
Writing it down makes it real. It’s fine to have a nebulous goal floating around in your head, but until you write it down, you still have a chance to deny it or change it. You still have a chance to back down from it and pretend it never happened. Once it’s written down, all that changes. Your goal is right there, staring you in the face and spurring you to take action.
2. Post your goal where you can see it every day.
Once you’ve written down your goal, don’t hide it away in a drawer somewhere. Post it somewhere where you can see it and be reminded of it every single day. Put it on your fridge, on your bedroom wall, on your computer monitor, in your training log – whatever it takes to ensure that you see your goal several times per day.
Ensuring that you’re regularly reminded of your goal keeps you motivated and focused on the task and stimulates your subconscious to look for ways to help you achieve it.
3. Tell someone about it.
Preferably many someones. As many people as you can. Telling others of our goals feels a bit risky in many cases, but there’s no better way to make yourself accountable to achieving them. Once you’ve told people about your goal, you have to go out and do it, or at least give it a good try otherwise you end up looking foolish.
Once you’ve put yourself on the line, you’ll have no trouble maintaining your motivation and focus towards achieving what you’ve set out to do. Tell your spouse, your co-workers, and your friends that you’re training for a marathon and a few of them will occasionally ask how you’re doing and whether you’re on target. Voila – instant accountability (whether you like it or not!)