You can have a set of goals going into each race so that you don't become too focused on just one goal that may not be attained. If you can attain a few of the other goalsisn't a bad race. It may not be that ultimate goal you want, but it doesn't mean you have to get down about the race either. This structure of goals also helps us respect ourselves, and that it takes a lot of hard work and patience! I sometimes remind myself in races that my toughest competitor is myself.
These examples help us gain perspective that what we runners are trying to do is really arduous, and to understand that there are other things we can achieve if we cannot make that A Goal. For example, often we runners focus on PRs. But we also must recognize how difficult it is to be better and faster than ourselves on our best day. And sometimes there are instances where we are doing better than we think we are but we do not realize it. For example, I like to keep track of Course PRs-a lot of runners do not think about these! Another example might be placing higher than you ever have in a particular race, even if your time isn't as fast (how were the conditions?). Another thing you can focus on is running within your top 5 best times. I keep a record of all my fastest times on different courses, and it is fun to see where these were run, which courses are the fastest, etc. Oftentimes I think a lot of runners are only set on one goal, and they have nothing else to look to if that doesn't go to plan.
Here are a few examples of how I have broken these goals down to categories, whether thinking about PRs and/or placing. Keep in mind these are goals that relate to me and everyone's goals are different! There are other examples that I will explain after.
Chris' goals Example 1 (placing):
A Goal: Win
B Goal: place top 3
C Goal: place top 5
D Goal: win age group
Chris' goals Example 2 (times):
A Goal: PR
B Goal: run close to my PR or perhaps my top 3 best times ever
C Goal: run a course best
D Goal: run under a certain time (maybe top 5 best times ever run, and so on..)
For me personally, in all my years of racing I have learned that it is really rare to win and run a PR in the same race. But I think it is good to have goals for placing and goals for times. For instance, this year I won the Parks Half Marathon (not a PR). But earlier this year when I ran my PR at the Houston Half Marathon, I was far away from winning that race! The difference of what my mind was focusing on was completely different in these 2 races. Both were achievements for me, just in different ways. During Parks, I focused on my strategy to catch the first guy who started out ahead of me. The goal was to win-because it was realistic. I also had a goal to run my course best time, which I did by over a minute. Parks is a difficult course, and on top of that, understanding where I was in my training I knew that 67 or 68 min was probably the fastest I would run on that course during the tough training block I was going through. To make my goal to PR on that course would be unrealistic. Contrary to this, at Houston, the course was fast, weather was ideal, and the competition was stacked. I knew there was a chance I could run a very fast time. In a race like Houston where the winner gets $20,000 (opposed to Parks which gives $500), you get world class elites from all over the world and a very big sized race and a strong American field. Famous runners like Meb have a tough time winning this race (he won in 2014 in 61 min, was 4th in 2015 in 62 min). With my previous PR of 66:37 going into the race, to win Houston would be unrealistic for me....so it was more realistic to have a goal to place as high among the top Americans as I could-maybe top 15, and maybe top 30 overall. And I knew if I was near top 30, I would most likely run close to 65 minutes. I ended up finishing in the top 20 Americans in the race, 37th overall, and a big PR of 65:25. What contributed majorly to me running that PR was competition. I was pushed by a lot of others running 64:00-66:00 in this race. And when it came down to the last 0.1 miles of that race, I was with 3 other guys sprinting to the finish. I could have settled and let those guys go at the end. I would have still run 65 minutes. But settling would not be giving my best. My best was to finish trying to outkick my competitors. We don't just run races for times, we also run to compete with others and get the best out of ourselves.
We are all trying to get to the finish line. The winner is trying to do this, and the last finisher is trying to do this. Many runners' goals are to finish the race-especially if it is their first one! But if the goal is to finish, you need to make sure you have those back up goals. For instance, you could break down your goals such as:
A Goal: Finish (running the entire time)
B Goal: Finish (running with very small walking breaks)
C Goal: Finish (walk the amount you need in order to finish)
For more experienced runners, as I stated above, we can also use races as workouts. We can make a goal to focus on running the race a certain way, such as progressing our pace, or working on the hills, or just getting in an overall strong run to boost fitness. When using a race as a workout, we must understand that we are training through that race. I definitely lower my expectations for fast times in these. They serve a different purpose-to help us get stronger for the bigger races.
Overall, there are several things below that can help you get the most out of setting your goals for races:
1) Respect yourself, especially if you're striving for a big breakthrough. Understand that if you are going for that A Goal, you are trying to be better than yourself on your absolute best day. It is really hard to do this especially if you have been doing this a long time!
2) Be patient with yourself. Understand that achieving that A Goal may take more time and patience than you think or would like! This is another big important thing a lot of runners forget. Patience is a virtue. Understand it is a process. It takes not one year, but sometimes several years, perhaps decades.
3) Don't get too obsessed with times defining your races. I see this all the time. A runner is bummed about their time...when they didn't realize they placed higher in the race than ever before, and if they had focused on that, perhaps they might have done even better. Remember to compete for place. No one remembers what time the Olympic Gold Medalist ran. People remember that Meb won Boston in 2014, not his time (if you must know it was 2:08, his all time PR).
4) Remember all the different goals you can set for races. Have fun with it! Don't make it stressful. It is a lot more enjoyable when you start to think outside of the "PR" box. There's a lot more to running. Get creative!
5) Always fall back on the goal to do the best you can on that given day given the situation and circumstances. You will be much more satisfied and get the most out of the race and most importantly, yourself.
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