Setting Goals and Thinking Long Term

As the season winds down, some athletes may be at the end of their triathlon and running seasons. This inevitably leads to the question, "What am I going to do now?" Before you start to make plans for next season, first you must take time to reflect on your last race season. Although it is nice to just reminisce about your successes, a productive reflection process can be achieved in three easy steps. First, think of all of the feats that you accomplished and how all of your hard work paid off. Then, take a look at some things that you may want to do differently in the next season. Lastly, consider the short-term and long-term goals that you would like to achieve.

Whether you've just finished your first season or your tenth, you need to ask yourself if you are 100% satisfied with your race season. For the most part, there are always improvements that can be made to an athlete's training consistency, pacing, sleeping habits, nutrition, recovery…the list goes on. It's best to make a list of the improvements that you would like to make so you can reflect on past seasons and facilitate changes for the next season.

Now it's time to set some goals for your next season and beyond. It's important to be realistic with your short-term and long-term goals. A short-term goal would be something that you want to achieve within the next few months or year. Some examples of this would be trying to increase your long runs by a few miles so you can run a half marathon, or improving your swim stroke mechanics so you feel more comfortable in the water. A long-term goal would be something that you would like to achieve three to five years from now. An example of this would be training to compete in a marathon or Ironman triathlon. Most people lack the foresight and patience to set long-term goals, but it is important for every endurance athlete to realize that it takes thousands of hours of training for your body to be able to handle the stresses of long-distance endurance events. Therefore, setting long-term goals is important for successful and injury-free race seasons.

How exactly can athletes (especially new athletes) set realistic goals? As you look forward to your first or second season, keep this in mind as you train: long-term development and enjoyment. A lot of people have a "fast food" mentality when it comes to endurance events. This essentially means that they want to accomplish everything the sport has to offer in one or two years. Twelve years ago after I completed my first triathlon, all I wanted to do was train for an Ironman. This is very common with endurance athletes, but it is not an ideal approach to sports. Not only is it important to have a significant physiological and musculoskeletal foundation under your belt, but also athletes are much more susceptible to injury if they jump into training for such distances too quickly. Thus, it is important to be realistic and challenge yourself without risking injury.

I leave you with this final thought regarding the "fast food" mentality: think of triathlon or running as a mountain, and let an Ironman or a marathon be the top of that mountain. A less experienced hiker might choose the most direct path to the top, although that path is rockier, more challenging, and even risky. However, a more experienced hiker will chose the longer, less rocky, and more scenic path. This choice will mean a longer route to the top, but the journey will be more enjoyable and will be more likely to be successful.

Here are some tips for you to make that successful journey:

  • Focus on your weakness. For triathletes, this may be one of the three disciplines of the sport; for runners, this may be a particular race distance. For example, you may be a strong marathon runner, but your 5k times may not be as competitive. Therefore, spend some time focusing on shorter, faster workouts at higher intensities. This will not only help your 5k times, but also your marathon times!
  • Similar to above, focus on short and fast workouts. We often neglect these short and fast workouts, but they are the workouts that can help the athlete in longer distances. Check out this article on "Your training physiology is a continuum."
  • We often neglect the importance of optimal nutrition and sleep! Take time and start to incorporate new habits such as increasing your fruit and vegetable intake or getting more sleep! Remember to make the changes small so they become a way of life without becoming a chore.
  • Start keeping a training log. Between training, warm ups, cool downs, fueling, and strength exercises or stretches, training takes up a lot of our time! The last thing most of us want to do is keep a training log! Although we may not enjoy it, keeping a training log can be our best asset in figuring out what training patterns work best for us. If you get injured, you can always look back and know what not to do to avoid that injury in the future. If you have the best race of your life, you're going to want to know the exact workouts that got you there! Keeping a training log is essential to improving performance and preventing injury!
  • "The definition of insanity is to do the same thing over and over again and expect a different result." It's still uncertain whether Albert Einstein or Benjamin Franklin said this, but the message is pretty clear. No matter what training plan you're following, you need to make sure you're making gains, because if you're not, then something needs to be changed. Take the time to test your fitness (swim, bike, or run) every 4–8 weeks to ensure that your training is progressing. For example, you could run a local 5k every few weeks to ensure that all the running you've been doing to improve is working! If you're not doing some sort of regular testing, you're training blind!
  • Now is the time to focus on weight loss if you feel it is necessary. The math is pretty simple when we talk about the weight of an athlete and how it affects their efficiency or economy (fancy words that we use to describe an endurance athlete's fitness). The more you weigh, the more weight you need to carry; therefore, your effort level may be higher than someone who weighs less but is training at the same pace/intensity/power. For example: two identical twins go for a 10-mile run and decide to run at a 7-minute/mile pace. Twin A weighs 110 lbs and Twin B weighs 140 lbs. It's safe to say that Twin B will be exerting more of an effort level to hold the 7-min/mile pace. The run may be a 70% effort for Twin A but an 80% effort for Twin B due to the extra weight. Although weight loss can be helpful to improve performance, we have to be very careful with weight loss, even in endurance athletes. You must lose the weight progressively and systematically to stay healthy, avoid burnout, and keep the weight off long term.

Train smart!

- Coach Jason Kilderry