How To Set SMART Goals As An Endurance Athlete
The Endurance Strong tag line Faster, Further, Forever has three examples of goals most endurance athletes would say they have. Ask most endurance athletes why they are doing all the training they are doing and they are likely to say something that boils down to them wanting to get faster, be able to go further, or that they just want to keep doing what they are doing forever. If you dig a little deeper they may add that they want to place well in a certain race or complete a certain distance. You may find there isn't much more detail to their goals. For example, what measurable milestones do they believe they need to hit to place high in that race or when are they going to complete that distance. Without these added details, it is less likely they will achieve their goals or even know for sure that they achieved them. Below are attributes of how goals should be structured to improve your chances of reaching them and more importantly to know definitively that you achieved what you set out to do.
With endurance training and general fitness, every individual should ask themselves these three questions:
1. Where am I now?
2. Where do I want to go?”
3. How do I get there?
“Where am I now?” has to do with assessing your current fitness, both qualitatively by learning your body and asking yourself the right questions, and quantitatively through field tests and laboratory testing.
“Where do I want to go?” You can’t predict where you will end up, but can decide where you want to end up and then strive to do your best getting there. Of course I’m talking about your “goals.”
“How do I get there?” pertains to your training and how to efficiently get from point A to point B and is the most difficult question to answer on your own. Quality training plans and building your training knowledge base can help you figure out this part.
While a coach or trainer (or this article) can help you define your goals, you must come up with them yourself. Goals are very personal as they are what you must commit to work towards. Most individuals have vague goals which they always seem to be chasing. This article will help you articulate exactly what your goals are so you can train more efficiently and definitively know whether or not you achieved your goals.
You have likely heard of the acronym S.M.A.R.T., as in goals should be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. Each of your goals should be a S.M.A.R.T. goal so you know exactly where you are trying to get to and if you get there or not.
Your goals should be very specific and answer Who, What, When, Where, and Why. In the context of training, racing, and fitness the “Who” is generally you and the “Why” is your personal reason for that goal. The other questions are harder. You should not be vague and simply claim “I want to get faster this year.” Instead be more precise on how fast you want to be (Ex. “I want to run a sub 24min 5K or not get dropped from the ‘A’ group on the Saturday morning shop ride), exactly when you want this to happen (Ex. the first Saturday in June), and exactly where you will be testing yourself (Ex. the St.Patrick’s Day 5K).
You should know definitively whether or not you achieved your goals. For this reason they need to have a quantitative measure (Ex. 250 Watts on my functional threshold power test or top three in my age group at the local triathlon). In the later example of finishing a certain place at a race, while the goal is technically measurable, you should have more measurable metrics than that for that race. You will see why in the next section. With measurable goals, once the day or race you set to achieve your goal is over, you will know if you met your goal or fell short.
There are two considerations in whether or not your goal is achievable: if it’s reasonable and if it’s under your control. Your goal should be one that you know is attainable if you do the necessary work and one that you can reasonably expect to achieve within a year. If you can’t say this, set a more reasonable goal and either scratch your original goal or make your new goal for the year a step towards achieving that first bigger goal in the future.
Whether or not a goal is under your control is a trickier question. Ideally a goal should not be dependent on factors such as what other competitors show up, how those competitors perform, what the weather does the day of your race, if you get sick, etc. as you can’t control those factors. To continue our example from above, if your goal is to finish in the top 3 in your age group at a triathlon, but a bunch of genetic freaks who all happen to be in your age group show up to the race that day then you likely won't get on the podium. While it may have been a reasonable goal at the outset, circumstances outside of your control happened to derail that goal. Since we are inclined to make goals like this and you could always come up with a “what if…” scenario to derail any goal, here is where we can make a minor expectation to the rules. If you feel compelled to go ahead and set goals like this then do so but with two conditions. First, you should also set accessory goals for that day’s personal performance to gauge how you would have done under normal circumstances. For example, set goal paces or times for each leg of your triathlon that represent a 3rd place performance under normal conditions based on past results or races with similar competitors. Second, keep that in mind that if race day comes and despite an amazing performance on your part according to your accessory goals, you don’t land in the top three in your age group. Your takeaway should be that you did all you could do and had a great performance, not that you fell short of your goal.
This gets back to goals being personal. Since your goals are your motivators they have to be important to you. While a coach or training partner (or this article) can help you define your goals, don’t let them change them completely. For example, you may have the perfect make-up to be an amazing 5K runner and a coach or training plan could land you some great 5k performances, but if you really want to run your first marathon then it wouldn’t make much sense to halfheartedly train like a 5K runner. Likewise, going to Nationals may be a goal for many, but you may have your heart set on winning your local bike race series. The takeaway from this should be to make sure you set your goals based on your desires and no one else’s.
Your goals should have deadlines. This will give you a sense of urgency which can be motivating. It also keeps you from putting them off and never knowing if you reached them or not. Falling short of a goal can be motivating as well, but how would you know if you fell short if there is no clear moment in time where that becomes true. This can be a date that is far enough away to be attainable but close enough so it motivates you and you get excited about it. It is often the date of a specific goal race or event.
Now that you have defined “where you want to go”, take a look at our Training Plans to help you access “where you are now” with instructions on baseline testing and then of course show you “how to get there.”
For more on setting goals see our article, Tips On Setting Goals As An Endurance Athlete.