I really dislike time goals. Time goals can drive athletes to injury, burnout, and depression more than improve performance and long-term potential. It's easy to set a goal of getting a personal record (PR) on your next race. Yes, I understand, everyone wants a PR. PRs are fun! They feel great, and make for social media highlights that attract oodles of Likes. PRs are special, but they don't differentiate between the athlete who was focused and disciplined for months in their training, versus the athlete who got lucky on race day. You can get a PR on a downhill course marathon, but does that prove you are a more competitive runner? You can PR a 70.3 on a beautiful 70-degree day when your last 70.3 PR was on a cold day in the pouring rain.
A PR, on its own, is meaningless in assessing yourself as an athlete.
Here are some tips for setting goals that will give you long-term gains in your training and racing.
DIG DEEP, BE HONEST, AND IDENTIFY YOUR LIMITERS
Limiters are anything keeping you from getting faster. I guarantee that the answer is not to add volume, though this is the knee-jerk reaction to wanting to improve. To identify your limiters, look beyond the hours or miles that you are logging and consider the holistic picture of how training fits into your life.
Is functional strength work a regular part of your training?
Are you getting 8-10 hours of sleep every night?
Do you have a stressful job?
Is your family supportive of your training and racing?
Do you eat frequent meals of nutrient-dense food, or do you binge on junk food?
If you don't know what your limiters are, talk to a coach or a friend you trust who can see your habits from a different angle.
IDENTIFY WHAT IS IN AND OUT OF YOUR CONTROL
"I don't focus on what I'm up against. I focus on my goals and I try to ignore the rest."
You can't change what you can't control. So don't focus on things like the weather, or a competitor's performance on race day, or someone else's training program. Focus on changing the things that you have control over, such as
How well you follow your training plan
How much you communicate with your coach
Whether you push yourself through pain or pull back when you are injured
What you eat - before, during, and after race day
How consistently you train
How well you prepare your equipment for race day
SET REALISTIC GOALS TO IMPROVE WHAT IS IN YOUR CONTROL
Reality check. Make sure your goals are realistic. What is the cost to achieving your goals? Your job? Your marriage? Your relationship with your kids? Your bank account? Don't sacrifice life and don't set yourself up for failure by not understanding what is required to achieve your goals. This is again where a coach or a trusted friend can keep your head in check.
Need some ideas? Here are a few examples of non-time goals for racing -
I will run 100% of my 70.3 run - no walking
I will stick to my race nutrition plan and won't get behind on my water or calories
I will negative-split my half marathon
I will smile and I won't judge myself, especially when things don't go as I hoped (positivity is power!)
I will stick to my race strategy, holding my paces/zones/watts according to plan
I will start my swim at the front of the pack and face my fear of swimming in a group
I will push over the crest of every hill on my bike
I will stay in aero on the flat on my bike
I will stay confident and calm if I get a flat
And here are a few more non-time goals for your training -
I will experiment with fueling strategies on every workout longer than 90 minutes so that I can be confident about my nutrition plan going into my next race
I will complete 10 hill repeats on the bike of [fill in name of scary hill!]
I will complete 90% of workouts as planned
I will incorporate 3 days of plyometrics strength training a week for the next 6 weeks
I will get to bed by 9:00 pm every night during race week
I will swim at least 3 times per week, increasing total swim time by 10% every 2 weeks for 8 weeks in order to be a stronger swimmer
I will meditate for 20 minutes every morning to combat stress of life and work
I will complete the Yasso 800s workout 4 weeks before my marathon race day
I will practice changing a flat once a week until I can do it with calm and confidence
Don't waste energy worrying about your race times and getting PRs. Devote some time to developing the goals - and the plan - that will turn you into that athlete you want to be. Accomplish those goals, and I promise, the PRs will follow.