In a post last week, I wrote about some easy New Year’s fitness resolutions for runners can take — baby steps, if you will — that will help make them better runners. This week, I wanted to take another look another problem that runners often have with their New Year’s Resolutions: making resolutions that aren’t specific enough for them to be met.
New Year’s resolutions are goals. They are often self-improvement goals, but goals just the same. We see in the new year the opportunity to improve, so we set out to change something in our lives to do things differently.
Goals are meant to help us reach new milestones or make changes in our behaviors and they can be very effective in doing so. But in order to be effective, they need to be actionable and they should be very manageable. Whether it be to lose weight or to run faster, if the goals are going to stick then they need to be specific.
Perhaps the biggest problem in making good goals is that they are not specific enough. The two goals that I just mentioned above — losing weight and running faster — are great examples. They are so non-specific that you’d have little chance to turning them in to reality. How are you going to lose weight? What would you do to get faster as a runner? These are just the first of many questions that will come up with goals that are missing specifics to help you attain them.
Let’s think about what might help make these goals more specific. If the end result is weight loss, then perhaps a better goal will be something like “I will join Jenny Craig and follow it for eight weeks to lose 15 pounds.” In that goal statement you now have the recipe for a goal that can be followed: a plan, a time-period to sink your teeth into, and a concrete result at the end. For runners, the same is true. Rather than setting a very non-specific goal to “run faster”, try to frame the goal in a way that has these same elements: “I will do two quality/speed workouts each week for six weeks and improve my mile time by 10 seconds.” Again, here you have a goal (although still one that needs details regarding the type of workouts) that gives you an action, a time-period and measurable improvement at the end.
Runners need to be particularly careful in goal setting for two reasons. First, we need to ensure that our goals are not set around factors that we don’t personally control. A great example would be to set a goal to “win my age group” in a particular race for example. Because you can not control who shows up for the race, you should consider a goal that, if you perform it, will give you that result. For instance, “I will run X time at X race”, where the time would generally speaking be good enough to win your age group. That way, you can fulfill your goal even if an Olympian happens to be in town on vacation and decides to race against you, then you can still feel good about the performance. Second, runners need to be aware that their training needs to be structured in a way that will help them achieve their goals. Taking a goal to run 3:00:00 in the marathon, for example, won’t become a reality unless you have a plan to back that up.
Don’t fall into the trap of making a goal and not setting a time-frame to completing it either. I often talk to runners who say things like, “I’d like to qualify for Boston” or “I’d like to do an Ironman.” It isn’t until you put a time-frame on a goal that you can put a plan in place to achieve it. And don’t interpret this to mean that you have to make your goals immediate. A goal to “Complete an Ironman three years from now” is a great example of a goal that might give you a road-map to complete it: doing progressively longer races over the next three years and culminating in that Ironman race.
In almost every case, the going will get tough in making changes in our lives. Goals help us in those moments when we are struggling through the tough times. We can point to our goals and think to ourselves, “I’m half-way there” or “I’m making progress” or “I just need to keep trying.”
Take a moment to think about your goals and then put a plan in a place to back them up.
Good luck in all of your endeavors this year!
Coach Joe English, Portland, Oregon, USA