Updated: Dec 12, 2020
What if I told you that your biggest fitness improvements won’t come from training for a race? No seriously, hear me out!
A lot of runners hire a coach to prepare for a specific race, new distance, PR/BQ/OTQ or some other upcoming goal. Some might hire a coach just a few months before the race. This is great - they’re seeking help to tackle something awesome they want to accomplish!
While a coach can certainly get you prepared for that individual race, a good coach is thinking not only about that training cycle, but the next several cycles, and ideally has an even longer-term outline.
Training is a Long-Term Process
Here’s the thing - no training cycle exists in a vacuum. Each one builds on the previous, just like every week builds on the weeks prior. The real progress happens when you can string a few years of consistent training together, taking your fitness to heights you only dreamed of! Many self-coached runners that are only thinking of the next race may not see that same sort of improvement.
Of course, consistency doesn’t mean always doing marathon/ultra training, (or whatever your favorite distance is), but rather training that is purposeful. That purpose may include working on shorter/faster races, a brief unfocused off-season, working on run-specific or general strength, or even cross-training to rehab an injury. It’s not about training the same year-round, it’s about training with purpose. That purpose should always have an overarching goal of making you fitter five years from now.
Almost every one of my athletes has a goal that’s several months away, one that’s 6-12 months away, and an often-secret goal that might be as many as 5 years away. As a coach, I have my own “secret goals” for their 5-year plan as well.
If you’re only thinking about the upcoming training cycle and race, you may be holding yourself back from your potential!
Types of Goals
So let's think about goals! There are SO many different types. The most common type many runners think about is run XX:xx at a specific race. Another might be run a PR, but without a specific race attached. Some runners might be stepping up in distance and just want to finish an epic adventure! Many runners I work with have FKT routes on their minds. The important part here is to find something that is truly motivating to think about, and helps you stay on track with your long-term fitness goals!
But goals don't have to be races either! As a coach, I LOVE hearing process-based goals. These are goals that don't necessarily have a time or even date attached, like running a PR training week, working on strength and mobility on a consistent basis, focusing on the process of training, ignoring your watch, or racing outside your comfort zone.
I don't discourage any types of goals that athletes come up with. That said, there are a few things to keep in mind when coming up with goals!
First, your time at a race comes down to not just your fitness, preparation and execution, but also dozens, maybe hundreds of factors that are far outside your control. (Think about the weather at Boston 2018 for the most obvious example). If you're going to view your success or failure through the lens of a specific time at a specific race, that may not be a healthy approach long-term. A healthier approach is to say you want to PR or run under a certain time at that distance in a given season.
Second, if you're aiming for specific times, consider having A, B and C goals. An A goal should be a stretch goal. Think of this as your absolute dream day that's still within the realm of possibility with your fitness. A B goal would be something that's achievable with your fitness level and training, but still requires some things to go right, like the weather! Then a C goal of course is for that day when things don't go quite according to plan, but you make the best of it and finish strong, if a little under your expectations based on fitness level.
Finally, where does your goal fit within your long-term training? Does working toward this goal make you a better runner overall? If not, is it something that is extremely meaningful to you? Are there other goals that will fit well in the build-up to this goal? A common example is working on 5k and 10k speed when building toward a marathon PR. How can you continue to build your overall fitness and make this goal more achievable?
Above all, I recommend all runners try and enjoy the actual process of training. You don't need a race goal to train and improve your fitness level. Does it help? Sometimes. Is it easy to see when you're successful? Sure. Does it mean you weren't successful if you didn't hit your A goal? NO!
Process isn't about a single training cycle or a single race. It's about you and your body getting stronger and faster over the course of multiple years of training. Learn to focus on that process and let the races take care of themselves, and you'll be able to have both successful long-term training and amazing races!
What's Your Super-Secret Goal?
Now think: what’s your secret 5-year goal? This should be something that seems out of reach right now, but is at least within your wildest dreams. This is your dream if everything goes right the next five years. This won't feel achievable right now. Not even close. And that's the point!
This is the goal that keeps you motivated during all the in-between times. The times when you know you need to rest to recover from a tough race. The times when you know you need to focus on your 5k speed even though it burns. The times in mid-winter when it's dark and cold, but you know you need to maintain consistency, even though your next race goal is 5 months away. This goal is your secret mental trick to maintain focus during all of those times, because a 5-year goal is built on 5 years of consistency. (See Training is a Long-Term Process above).
If you’re willing to talk about your super-secret 5-year goal to anyone but your coach/spouse/therapist, you’re probably not dreaming big enough! Dream big, train with purpose consistently, and seek help getting there - you’re almost sure to smash your expectations!
Do you have big goals for 2021 and beyond? See how much truly unlimited, 100% customized personal coaching with a long-term focus can help you on the Coaching page!