Setting race goals is important as they likely will impact your training plan and your race day plan.

Here I’ll talk about two types of goals: Training goals and race day goals.

Here are some examples of  Race Day goals:

Performance Goals:
A goal that measures success based upon your performance in relation to others.

Outcome Goals:
A stretch outcome goal: if the stars align, the weather is perfect, your training and taper went well and you’re feeling terrific on race day, you can do this.

A realistic outcome goal: a goal which is a good improvement for you and one which you would be well satisfied with.

A good outcome goal: a goal which shows improvement and one which you can feel OK about. This type of goal could represent a very good effort if the weather works against you on race day, or you have a minor ache/pain on race day or you’ve been dealing with a life issue (unusual stress, lack of rest and/or sleep during race week (don’t include lack of sleep the night before the race), etc.)

Process Goals:
These are goals which have to do with how you plan to run your race. If you exactly hit each of your process goals you will finish with a realistic outcome goal. These type of goals can include things such as: your pacing during the first third of the race, your pacing during the second third of the race , etc., how you will handle water stops (run through, stop and walk through, etc.), negative splits or even pace, etc. This is not an exhaustive list of possible process goals.

Here are some thoughts on setting Training Goals:

When you begin your training you can:

1) focus on your ultimate finish time goal and train from day one to be ready to run that goal on race day, no matter what happens. Commit to your goal completely.

2) focus on the process of training smart every day based upon your current fitness level. That means putting your race goals on the back-burner and focus on taking the next logical step in your training each week. Increase your volume only as much as your body is ready to handle and train to your current fitness level, not where you were or where you want to be on race day.

3) Focus on the process, train consistently, stay healthy, and keep moving forward one day, week and month at a time.

There is a difference between training for a specific goal and training to improve while still having goals, and that difference seems to be a difficult concept for runners to comprehend.  I’m guessing that’s because so many athletes are internally driven to achieve their goals at all costs that they just naturally set a goal and then do whatever it takes to hit that goal.

Isn’t that a good thing you may ask, and to some degree, it surely is as excuses have no place in training as it will be long and often difficult to reach race day.  However, given the very high injury rate in our sport, and after years of personal a professional experience, it seems obvious to me that too many athletes set unrealistic race outcome goals and then suffer through injuries (some minor and some major) on their way to race day.

I enjoy coaching people to train to do things which they have never done before, but the part of coaching which isn’t as pleasant, but is very important, is to sometimes point out to people when they have set unrealistic goals.  More then once someone who has just heard my evaluation thinks that I just don’t believe in them, and they are very disappointed and even angry at me.  In fact, many times the opposite is true.  I do believe in them and only think that the timing to be able to achieve their goal is off a bit and that their goal is definitely achievable, with the proper training process and interval.

I hope the information above will get you thinking about the various types of goals for both training and racing, and most importantly will help you to set the most aggressive goals which your body can handle based up the time available until race day and your current physical and mental conditioning (BTW – mental conditioning is very important and often overlooked in training plans).

I’ll be glad to respond to general goal setting questions here.  Ask your question by clicking the “Add comment” button below, and I’ll reply as soon as possible.

Joe Gigas
RRCA Certified Endurance Running Coach