Setting personal training/ sports goals is something fundamental for any elite or professional athlete, but even they, sometimes, don’t know how to properly set their goals. So you can imagine how confusing things might be for amateur and enthusiast athletes. In my experience with coaching amateur and enthusiasts I noticed that most of the non-elite-athletes are quite confuse about how to set their goals properly. Either they don’t worry much about it, leaving for their coaches/friends to take care of it for them or they have the complete wrong idea about it: for instance, some people think they simply have to go to as many races as possible while others think they should only do one single race per year.
In case you feel confused, my first advice is: talk to your coach. Setting your personal goals and discussing them with your coach is one of the most important steps before starting training. Without goals, planning your training schedule gets subjective and rather complicate. I am not saying you must compete, but even if you decide that you don’t want to compete, setting a goal (or goals) is fundamental if you want to be “well trained”. Bellow you will find a few general tips on how you can and should start setting your own goals, followed by a practical example with a hypothetical triathlete called “John Smith”.
1- Desire: Think about what you want to accomplish. Decide on the events and/or dates. Take into account your work, family trip, holidays etc. Ask what your coach thinks of your planning and expectations.
2- Keep it real: Look back; recall what you have accomplished already in the past. How things went? How many (and what) are the races you have already done? This step is quite important since it helps you to realize what you can actually do versus what you dream of doing. The same thing goes for your personal best time; you should consider what you were able to do and how long ago you did it before thinking about beating it. Talk to your coach, ask about your potential, and what’s possible or not.
3- Short and Long term: think and discuss about what you want and can accomplish in a short and long term. How do these events/ races relate to each other?
4- “Plan B”: we all know that sometimes things go south. You may get injured or sick, your workload might increase way beyond what you are used to etc. There are several other unforeseen problems that might happen and although you cannot predict the future it’s good to be prepared to face at least the most common problems such as sickness, injury, extra workload. You might have to change your schedule, or interrupting practice. It’s good to be mentally prepared to face these problems, and perhaps let go of your original plans, even if the race registrations have already been made. Do not get more frustrated than you should; have in mind that it is part of life. Recently Javier Gómez, who was the favorite triathlete to win the Olympics in Rio (2016), had to cancel his trip because of a fall that caused a broken arm. Although we should always think positively, being prepared for the worst helps us to deal better with problems when they come.
John Smith is a 50-year-old triathlete who has been doing triathlon for 3 years. He has already done 18 triathlons in his life. In 2016, he competed in 9 events: 5 sprints and 4 Olympic distances. His longest race is a half-Ironman two years ago. He wants to run an Ironman at the end of 2017, but he has never run a full marathon either. The Ironman race date is set for December 3rd. It’s January 20th 2017 and John is out of shape because ha hasn’t been training or eating properly since December 20th last year. He wants to run two half Ironman races this year, one on February 19th and the other on June 4th. He also told his coach he wants to run as many races as he can and to improve his sprint distance personal best. However, last year John was burned out after his 7th race, he is an investment banker and never stops working; he does not have much sleep and is always stressed.
With this piece of information, let’s try to set Mr Smith’s schedule according to our steps.
- Desire: Mr Smith’s biggest desire is finishing an Ironman at the end of the year, and also improve his sprint distance personal best time. Although they are two distinct goals they seem to be as important for Mr Smith. So, we would have to focus on these goals as “main goals”.
- Keep it real: Mr Smith’s idea of running a half-Ironman in a couple of weeks would be interesting if he was not out of shape, so unfortunately I would recommend Mr Smith to drop this race. However, the sprint distances are easier if performed at slower paces, so we could use them to start his season. These first few sprint distances would be considered “secondary goals”. We should also watch out for the stress and workload Mr Smith has over his shoulders. Remember that last year, he was already feeling fatigued after 7 races. So let’s keep the number of races between 6 – 8 according to his response and feedback.
- Short and Long term: since we have almost a year ahead of us, and we know Mr Smith is currently out of shape. We could focus on a few sprint distances during the first semester in order to boost his speed and fulfill his desire to break his personal record. We would probably be reaching his peak performance at the second half of the first semester. 4-5 sprint distances would be enough: two at the beginning, used as preparatory races, and 3 main ones at Mr Smith’s peak shape. In the second semester, the focus should be changed to the Ironman distance. But since Mr Smith had never run a full Marathon I would suggest him to run one 3 months before the Ironman, and perhaps a half-Ironman 2 months before the full-distance if Mr Smith is not feeling too tired.
- Plan “B”. We should always focus on our main goals. If Mr Smith has any problem, we want to sacrifice first the “secondary goals” and then the “main goals”. The first few sprint distances together with the Marathon and half-Ironman are all considered “secondary goals”, the main ones are the last 3 sprint distances of the first semester and the Ironman at the end of the year.
I do not intend to cover all possibilities with this example. Instead, my goal was to give you an instance of someone who is committed to train but it is still a recreational athlete. This type of athlete is the most common one after the “enthusiast”, and most of the time they are clueless when it comes down to setting goals. Anyway, regardless of whether you are an elite athlete or an enthusiast knowing how to set your sports goals is crucial make the most of your training.
Learn more about goal setting. Download our Goal Setting Guide.