Using the S.M.A.R.T. acronym will help you define each one of your goals (see our article, How To Set SMART Goals As An Endurance Athlete for more on that), but there are a few other things to keep in mind when coming up with goals:
Write Them Down
Think of your list of goals as a written contract with yourself. If it’s in writing then it’s less likely to change either intentionally or unintentionally. Keep this list visible so you keep them in mind and let them motivate and guide you.
Telling your friends, family, and training partners what your goals are is a great way to keep you honest and motivated. Even posting to social media can help keep the pressure on.
Have A Few Goals
Banking an entire year on one goal or race can create a lot of pressure on you and bad weather or other circumstances out of your control could derail that goal as well as your entire year. For this reason, you should have multiple goals for a given year. If you don’t achieve one goal whether or not it was under your control, you will have others to fall back on. That being said, don’t set too many as you will be spreading yourself too thin training for all of them. 3-5 goals for a year is sufficient.
Have Different Levels Of Goals
While you should have well-defined goals, it can be difficult to figure out exactly how high to set a goal. Set it too high and you will be discouraged when you miss it; set it too low and you won’t feel much of a sense of accomplishment in reaching it. For that reason, set a range of a few goals based around each individual goal. Set a ‘dream’ goal that may be possible if all the stars align, a moderate goal that is reasonable but will require a good amount of effort on your part, and a minimum goal that you feel you should reach and would really be upset with yourself if you fall short of it. For example, for your local 5K goal may be to finish in under 24min and you should strive for that. At the same time, you know if you do everything right and are feeling good on race day you could finish under 23:30, then set that as a dream goal to go for if the stars align on race day. Also set a conservative goal to push you if you are having a bad and half way through the race you know 24min is out of the question. Knowing you won’t let yourself run slower than a 25min 5K can be surprisingly motivating.
Have Stepping Stone Goals
Everyone likes the feeling of accomplishing a goal, but with 3-5 goals per year it may seem like the next one is quite a ways away. This is why you should have smaller goals to keep you on track to your bigger goals. These can give you both a sense of accomplishment and motivation. For example, if you want to hit 250W on you FTP test in May you can set the stepping stone goals of 240W in March and 230W in January. You will always have something right in front of you to strive for and know if you need to re-adjust your future goals.
There is a good amount of information here to digest and think about, but taking some time to come up with a list of goals will be a valuable experience to guide your training this year. Once you come up with some goals, post them in the comments section to get feedback from myself and other readers.