Goal Setting in Uncertain Times: Four Concrete Steps To Get You Started

March 5, 2021

Emily Schmitz, a Hoka athlete and Chaski Endurance Coach, writes about her method of goal setting. Her specialization includes anything from the marathon distance to 100k though she enjoys dabbling in “baby” ultra-trail races and recently ran the Golden Trail World Championship held in the Azores Islands which you can read about here.

As a rule, I am not a planner. I do not schedule my days, plan phone calls, or organize dinners with friends. For the most part, I let things happen. I have one exception to this rule: I love planning running goals.

For as long as I’ve been running, I have never, ever accidentally achieved a single running goal. I have only done so through intentional planning. Because of this, I take planning seriously, starting with identifying my main goals, and then by creating a yearly running calendar, oftentimes with numerous editions and thoughtful edits before I solidify what will eventually outline my training. I’ve done this for years, and it’s guided my running and kept me motivated and excited. I did this last year, creating what I considered to be my best calendar yet. In fact, I had big plans for 2020. That is until 2020 decided it had different plans for me.

Despite this, and despite the many unknowns that still currently surround us, I am even more adamant about planning for 2021. I won’t tell you that I didn’t feel disappointed when events were cancelled this year, but the uncertainty served as a good learning experience for me and a jumping-off point for this year.  

Here are a few guidelines I’ve used to set goals during the uncertain and unknown.

1. It’s never too early to start planning

It’s never too early to start planning your goals, and never too late to achieve them.

Truth be told, I never stop thinking about my running goals. I take note every time I see a race, route, or an event that looks especially beautiful, challenging, or appealing. I have an extensive list that helps me shape what my goals might look like. Some of these ideas will be added to my immediate schedule, and others will be placed a few years out.

I take everything running-related into consideration: races that look challenging, FKTs I want to attempt, hikes and parks I want to explore, mountains I want to climb, new strength routines to work on my weaknesses, communities and causes I want to become a part of and help grow. All of these are added to my running calendar, creating an outline of not only what my upcoming running schedule will look like, but exploring where I want to be and who I want to become as an athlete over the course of many years.

If I’ve learned anything from goal planning, it’s that patience is key. It may take many tries to reach a goal, but that just makes it that much more worth chasing.

2. Identify your Why

Identify your Why. It might not be as easy as you think.

Goal setting and knowing your 'why' go hand in hand. Especially during COVID times, when races are cancelled and lockdowns are uncertain, it’s helpful to see the big picture.

Do you wake up early every morning to train and dedicate your weekends to going on long solo runs? Chances are, you don’t do this just to prepare for races. There is something that running adds to your daily life that makes it all worth it--races, competitions, PRs and segments on Strava aside.

Your goal is to identify what that is. It sounds easy, but it might be harder than you think.

Turn off your social media, shut down your computer, and go on a run without your watch. Take away everything that tells you running is only about competition, fast times, and comparing yourself to others. Now identify your why.

3. Make a Calendar

Learn to Plan. Then learn to Let Go.

Being able to identify what motivates you to get out the door and run is the first step to goal setting, allowing you to create meaningful goals. Every runner will struggle with motivation from time to time, but if you know your why, and have a calendar and a plan to guide you, it will be much easier to avoid the dreaded slump. Once you’ve defined this, you are ready to make your calendar.In normal (i.e., non-pandemic) years, I make a plan A, B, and C when possible. In 2020, I’ve made a plan A, B, and C without question. If this year has taught me anything, it has helped me hone my planning skills, allowing me to be more precise and detailed, while simultaneously knowing that it all may change without notice. 2020 has been a lesson in learning how to dream big in the midst of the uncertain and unknown, and accept the road bumps and challenges that come along the way. After all, even the best plan is--at best--only a projection of what we think might happen.

4. Identify Your Goals

Don’t be afraid to get Creative. Running goals are not black and white. For many runners who have spent any considerable amount of time competing, running goals become divided between racing goals and PR goals. We are either competing against other competitors, or competing against the clock. But running can be so much more than this. As soon as you open the creative floodgates, running becomes whatever you want it to be. It becomes a platform through which you can find personal expression, foster community, communicate about an issue larger than yourself, or work toward a goal for the common good. Your goals can be internal or external, immediate or long term, individual or community-based. Your goals are yours and only yours. Make them as unique as you are. No one has to understand them except you. You don’t have to justify them, explain them, or back them up with supporting evidence. They are meaningful because you decided they are. And just in case you need somewhere to start, here is a list of running goals that you probably haven’t considered before, but will make your running life richer, more creative, and increasingly enjoyable, and that have nothing to do with competition:

  • spend more time running with friends and family
  • motivate someone to start running
  • create a running club or a virtual running club
  • explore local routes and trails
  • spend more time on recovery
  • start foam rolling on a regular basis
  • do a new strength training routine
  • add a weekly yoga practice
  • learn how to meditate
  • take your dog on runs and train him to become the best dog athlete he can become
  • practice running at night
  • work on running drills for technique
  • find the biggest hill in your neighborhood and run up it
  • start a new cross-training routine
  • create a running campaign to raise money for a cause you believe in and ask your friends to join you.

In closingI’ve found that the more creative I become with my running, the more gratifying it becomes. Remember, it’s your journey. Make it yours.

— Emily Schmitz

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