Saturday, March 19, 2011

The Importance of Setting Proper Goals


Thursday brought incredible weather for some spring outdoor running -- Sunny and mid 40s.  Despite having a rough workout on Monday following a challenging run on the weekend, the aches and pains I've been feeling are short lived and not likely to set back my training.  The day was custom-built for the 5 mile run at Mid-Tempo pace that was prescribed.  There's an outdoor loop I run frequently that's just a shade over 5 miles and, with the exception of some melting snow on a few squares of sidewalks, the route was definitely runnable.

After a brief warm up inside, I went out & got right to it.  I turned on the iTouch with Nike+, started the wristwatch timer, and hit the giddy-up switch.  I really didn't pay attention to the pace that was being reported, but I tried to run a pace that alway felt just a bit faster than I was really comfortable running at for 5 miles.  My legs (hammies & glutes in particular) really weren't completely on board with the pace, but at that point they were along for the ride.

My best time for a slightly shorter version of this run (4.9 miles vs. 5.2) was a bit under 40 minutes.  My goal for 5 miles was a 40'23" or a 42'00" for the 5.2 mile course.  I ended up making the run in 38'13" at a 7:21 pace, about 15 seconds per mile quicker than my new "sane-pace" target.  It was a rewarding experience for a variety of reasons.  I got have a comfortably-clothed outdoor run, nothing new hurt when I was done, I pushed the pact the entire way (except for pauses to cross the street without getting hit by traffic), and I hit a pace that would put me on about a 3h35m finish time.

2011-MAR-17 Diet Log (yes, it was St. Patrick's Day)
2011-MAR-17 Run Graph (Nike+)


I continue to struggle with setting a goal for my training plan and the race itself.  I'm a data geek with an experimental methodology mindset, so half the fun of all of this is crunching number and trying to predict what I'll be able to do.  I don't know if came up with this on my own or if it's a quote that I should be attributing to someone, but I try to use as a litmus test for goal setting:

If you find your goals too easy to attain, you aren't setting them high enough.
If you find your goals too hard to attain, you aren't trying hard enough.

What that second part doesn't include is any element of realism that a goal may be set so high that it isn't realistically attainable.  Having to work hard for something an achieving that goal is motivating; working hard towards a goal and consistently falling short is demotivating and demoralizing.  On the flip-side, living life setting goals that don't require significant effort doesn't maximize potential or provide measurable growth.

My whole mantra of "Push The Envelope. Watch It Bend." is based on the notion that training on the edge of what your capable of is the best way to get results, both physically and mentally.  Setting a goal that too easy gives the hollow satisfaction of achieving the goal, but if the effort required isn't at or near maximum, what do you really gain?  By the same measure, setting a goal that's unrealistic can lead to giving up on the goal and making excuses for why you failed.

I'll give my revised plan another few workouts and see how the results come in.  The 3h20m training schedule was not getting me closer to running a good race in May.  Had I stayed on-the-gas after my last race in November and continued to train HARD through to February, I think I could have been in shape for that plan.    Taking the majority of 3 months off from sustained run training definitely compromised by pace and conditioning.  I don't think I'm fully back to where I could run the 1h40m 1/2 marathon pace I did last fall.  Expecting to jump into a plan that would have me running at that pace for twice the distance was beyond optimistic and I found myself getting discouraged.

But if I pull way back from that goal and set a pace that something I feel comfortable with and I can exceed the pacing for each workout, where's the fun in that?  What have I gained?  Where have I achieved growth?  If I can run comfortably run my workouts, that may give me confidence that I can run the full race in a specific time, but where's the satisfaction in that?  For me, one of the joys of building my fitness level is occasionally surprising myself by doing things that I didn't know I had in me.  If you don't push for that challenge, you'll never know what you're truly capable of!

Some people say, "Just finishing the marathon is my goal!"  That's bull!  Unless you develop a physical condition, other than lack of conditioning/training, that prevents you from finishing the race (twisted ankle, flu, dehydration/passing out), you set a specific goal and train towards it.  You do everything in your power to get yourself ready to achieve that goal and on the day of the race, you become solely committed to that goal.

If you set a proper goal and train accordingly, you should toe the start line knowing that you've got it in you to achieve your goal if everything goes to plan.  If you cross the finish line and left nothing behind, whether you achieve the goal or not is somewhat irrelevant.  If you know that you set a high bar for yourself and gave it everything you had, you have to be satisfied with the result.  Embrace the journey, not the destination.

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