On this TriTalkTuesday we’ve finally exhausted the basic categories and are moving on to more esoteric fare. We are going to be tackling the concept of goals. Setting them, trying to attain them, adjusting them and sometimes throwing them out. Entire college courses and scientific studies have been dedicated to tackling this issue. It can be applied to nearly every aspect of life itself. But in sport we can distill it and focus it. Through the lens of a sporting event like triathlon, setting proper goals can be the difference between a breakthrough performance or a disappointing failure.
To dispense with the obvious, below is the most well known acronym SMART written by George T. Doran over 30 years ago to guide the setting of goals. It endures to this day and is a great place to start talking about how to properly set goals.
Specific – target a specific area for improvement.
Measurable – quantify or at least suggest an indicator of progress.
Assignable – specify who will do it.
Realistic – state what results can realistically be achieved, given available resources.
Time-related – specify when the result(s) can be achieved.
One of the first things I ask my athletes to do is fill out a fairly lengthy questionnaire that encompass a great deal of background information on their lives their previous physical activity and health and their work/life schedule. But I always include a section on goals and based on that I begin to truly understand what they want both immediately, in the near future and years from now. The simple act of contemplating a question like: what are your triathlon goals for the season can spark a meditation from an athlete that will inform the rest of the year. It may also give you greater insight on why you are out there, in the heat, the rain and at 5am before the sun comes up. Why are you doing this? What do you want out of it? These questions should be asked often and the answers are always changing.
When picking goals if an athlete answers “to become as fast as possible in all three disciplines” but has a bunch of 70.3s, ½ marathons and an Ironman scheduled, than there is a disconnect that should probably be addressed. As a coach, its my job to look for these warning signs and get to the bottom of the true goals that person has. I also provide help in distilling these general desires into actionable steps that will ideally result in fulfillment and enjoyment in the sport.
Goals can also be organized any number of different ways. Macro, seasonal goals like “drop 5 min off of my 70.3 runs” can affect changes to your weekly schedule by adding a 3rd or 4th running day or double session. Mico, race specific goals can be used just once like “crack top 20% AG in upcoming Olympic race” Each goal must be thought of differently and can be unrelated to the others. But all of them should adhere to a handful of the SMART criteria.
For me, the most important issues when choosing goals are Specificity, Measurable and Realistic. Specific and Measurable are two sides of the same coin. If a goal isn’t specific “get better at running off the bike” there will be no real way to measure it. Whats “better?” What distances and what times do you want to drop?” And if its not realistic or its out of your control “Go from Top 50% AG in NYC Triathlon to top 15% AG” you might be setting yourself up for failure and disappointment.
Race placement goals are a tricky bunch because there are so many variables on race day. You don’t know how many AGs there will be on your day. Who may or may not show up. These elements are out of your control. You can do your research though and try to get close by looking at previous years and seeing what times get you to what place. And then, if its realistic, you can set new time goals which, if conditions are right, will get you to your placement goal.
This brings me to my next point which is repeating races year to year. As a coach I suggest (and personally find it very rewarding) to pick one or two favorite “benchmark” races that I enter every year. As your career progresses, these races (if they remain relatively unchanged) can be the most helpful tools in correct goal choice and subsequent performance analysis. Each year should be faster and each year your goals can shift and be tested. My three are the Mini-Mighty Man sprint, the NYC Triathlon and the Westchester Triathlon. I’ve done each 5 or more times and have found it immensely helpful and super fun.
Lastly, just because something isn’t traditionally “specific” it doesn’t mean it can’t be a good goal. Not everything is quantified by numbers (a coach saying this, I know, shocking) You can have the simple goal of maintaining a relaxed state during the swim start. This is something you can mentally (and sometimes physically with group OWS practices) prepare beforehand and even successfully analyze afterward. If you look back on the race and think “yeah, I was calm, relaxed and prepared” then goal accomplished.
Any way you look at it, in the weeks leading up to the beginning of your season, you should take some time to ask yourself what you want to accomplish this year. The answers will inform both your months of training and your race choices for your upcoming season.
I’ll leave you with my personal goals for 2014:
Go under 12hrs for IMLP
Do not walk outside aid stations during IMLP
Drop under 1hr20 for Westchester Tri and AC Tri
Run sub 7min miles for every OLY tri
Increase FTP (Functional Threshold Power on bike) to 250W by end of season