By Yaro Middaugh
Goal setting is the process of identifying something that you want to accomplish and establishing measurable goals and timeframes. Setting goals is done to give you direction, focus and hopefully motivation to stay on the path to eventual success. This typically happens with each new year. We rush to set new goals, perhaps write them down somewhere and tuck them away never to be seen again. As highly motivated triathletes, we come up with amazing goals. You want to win your region and qualify for the XTERRA World Championship, or maybe land an age group podium at a key race.
If you want to increase the chances of attaining your goals, you need to have these seven key ingredients:
Make them realistic and attainable
This sounds obvious, but it definitely needs to be emphasized. Too many times athletes set huge goals, that are not in the realm of possibility and are devastated when they can’t reach them. A race schedule and a training plan always looks easier on paper. After seeing Josiah’s ambitious race schedule, I am reminding him of this principle. Remember this equation:
Satisfaction = Reality – Expectations
Setting attainable goals might take some research. Based on your results from last year, how far off of the goal are you now? The Law of Diminishing Returns states that the better you are, the harder it is to make gains. An untrained athlete new to the sport of triathlon can expect greater improvement that an athlete that has been competing for 10 years and regularly wins his or her age group, unless that person makes a drastic change in their preparation. Getting input from your coach and training partners is a great strategy.
Focus on Process goals rather than Outcome goals
This is hard to do in XTERRA since every course is different, making paces less relevant. However, those metrics are very important in your training and can give you confidence going into races. For every long-term goal, there is a systematic attainment of short term goals. Use those outcome goals as motivators, but use the process goals to guide your training. Also use process goals that will help your measureable goals, such as “wake up early 3 days per week and workout before work”, or recovery based such as “in bed by 9:30 pm during the week”. Be cautious not to have your only training solution to be more, more, more. There are only so many hours in a day and remember your goal is to adapt to whatever training load you deem appropriate. Don’t be afraid to adjust your goals as the season progresses.
Get your entire team on board
Once you think you have realistic goals, you need to check with your entire team to make sure they are supportive and 100% on board. Your team includes anyone that will be affected by your training and racing. This could include, but is not limited to your significant other, children, parents, coach and possibly even your employer. If you can get all of these people supporting your athletic endeavors, you will have just strengthened your support team. When those tough days come, and you know they will, your team will be there to help keep you motivated. They also will be more apt to understand when you miss a family or work function because you need to get in a 3-hour brick.
Make them measurable and systematic
A well designed plan has systematic checks throughout to measure progress toward your end goal. You should know what pace you will have to run and swim as well as what type of power you will need to produce to reach your goal. If you have done the research and know that you will have to swim 1:25/100yd, run 6:30/mile and hold 230 watts for 60 min. well then you have yourself a measureable goal. Every 6-8 weeks you should be testing yourself in each discipline to make sure you are making progress towards your goals (Benchmark Testing coming soon). If not, meet with your coach right away to see if you are still on track or if changes need to be made if you have plateaued. Don’t panic and scrap your entire plan, but definitely have a conversation if you are not making progress every 6-8 weeks.
Train your weaknesses...and your strengths
I used to say “train your weaknesses, race your strengths,” but you can’t neglect your strengths. Be honest with yourself when you identify weaknesses. Every weakness is an opportunity to improve, but you can’t lose sight of your strengths. I like to take sort of a “Money-Ball” approach to training. Think about the specific demands of XTERRA. Perform a needs analysis. Do your key races include hills? Technical riding? Non-wetsuit swim? Identify where you have the greatest opportunity to make up the most time on race day. Roughly 55-60% of your race time will be spent on the bike, so even if swimming may be a weakness--you also need to have a monster bike split. Ten percent improvement in the swim might be 2-3 minutes, but ten percent improvement on the bike will be more like 8-12 minutes, and 4-6 minutes for ten percent in the run. Don’t forget about “free speed” from improved biomechanics, technical skills, and transitions.
Put a plan in place
Now that you have a realistic goal and a support team, you need to come up with a plan to reach that goal. If you are using a coach, you need to make sure he or she knows exactly what your goals and expectations are for the season. How are you or your coach setting up your annual training plan to reach your goals? He or she should be able to tell you how they plan to get you there. What tune up races will you do? How does each race help prepare you for your goal? If you are self-coached, you need to be able to answer these questions for yourself. Prioritize your races and consider trimming your schedule if necessary. A well-spaced schedule can allow for multiple peak performances in a season. They can also serve as benchmarks to guide the course of your training. If races are too tightly spaced than they may interfere too much with training. Make sure that local races are serving a purpose and fit with your overall plan, not just digging you deeper into a fatigue hole. Don’t underestimate the recovery required from racing, since races are almost always more fatiguing than a hard workout. Even for low priority races, make sure you have some level of freshness going into them in order to get the maximum benefit. If not, maladaptation will occur.
Write it down
The simplest ingredient is often the most important. I like to write my goals down, put them up where I see them every day, and graph my progress every 6-8 weeks. This visual helps keep you motivated and ensures you are making incremental gains toward your goal. It helps keep me mentally focused during my training as well. I see my last benchmark test and my end goal every time I leave the house for a workout. I may not always be on my game, but I’m less likely to slack with that reminder. If you are comfortable having it in a place that others can see it such as your refrigerator it can add an extra layer of accountability and support.
You would never bake a cake, leave out an ingredient and expect it to turn out right. The same goes for triathlon. Training hard and expecting to improve will only take you so far. Every ingredient in goal setting gets you that much closer to reaching your goals. If the end of the season comes, you hit all of your measurable benchmarks along the way, but do not qualify, the year is not a total loss. You did your job and put yourself in the best possible position to reach your goals, so no regrets. Many aspects of XTERRA racing are unpredictable so focus on the elements that you can control. The journey is as important as the destination.