Lately I've been having trouble with motivation because I usually have a goal race on the calendar. What can I do to stay focused?
Goals: Terrifying, Motivating, Challenging, Empowering
Whether you’re trying to run your first 5K, hoping to make the Olympic Team, or just trying to be a better friend, goals are important. They give your running, and more importantly, your life, a meaning and sense of purpose. Goals help set the process and shape your training. Whether they realize it or not, every runner who sets out to put one foot in front of the other, is working towards some goal, however vague. It’s an important part of being a runner, but it can be a challenge setting the right kind of goals. Ultimately, a goal should be attainable so as to provide motivation and excitement, not a sense of intimidation or fear of failure.
Setting the Bar
Goal-setting needs to be personal, and solely centered on what you hope to accomplish as a runner. These are your hopes and dreams, and hopefully future successes. Don’t let anyone tell you your goals are insignificant, and don’t downplay the importance and value of your own goals just because you’re hoping to break 20 minutes in the 5k for the first time and not qualifying for the Olympics. Focus on improving yourself bit by bit instead of trying to measure up to the achievements of others.
Chasing a goal is an immensely personal project. Each goal needs to make sense for you, and you have to believe that you can attain it. If you’re 125 pounds soaking wet, don’t set a goal of becoming an NFL linebacker. On the flip side, you probably wouldn’t recommend that an NFL linebacker try to qualify for the Olympic Trials Marathon; these goals are too far afield and don’t play to either person’s talents and abilities. We’re all human and all have limitations, and that’s ok. It’s just important to know what those limitations are (while still allowing ourselves a little wiggle room for dreaming). Take your running aspirations one season at a time, one week at a time, one step at a time. Running is an unpredictable sport, and you’ll be surprised how quickly you improve and your goals change with consistent, focused training and a lot of hard work.
One Step at a Time
Setting incremental goals allows you to break up ‘pipedream’ goals – say qualifying for the Olympic Team or setting a World Record – into more manageable milestones. Once we have these milestone goals, we can break them down into even smaller checkpoints. Whatever your goal may be, you can work backwards from that performance and make a series of checkpoints for the things you need to do before that goal is realistic.
If you want to finish a marathon, you know you’ll need to run 26.2 miles on race day, so what do you need to do first? Probably run at least 20 miles in training. And to do that? Probably run 18 miles. Keep working backwards until you get to something that seems manageable and that’s where you start.
Staying on Task
Once you’ve got your goal and stepping stones, it is so valuable to share them with others. This creates a sense of personal accountability (which we might all need a little bit more of right now with very few opportunities for real racing on the schedule).
Whether it’s a training partner, friend, or family member, our peers can often be our greatest motivators and keep us honest.
Everyone has days when maybe they feel tired or the weather’s no good and
the thought might cross your mind to just skip that day’s training. But, if you
have your running partner outside waiting for you in the cold rain, you’re not
going to bail on her!
Conversely, if you do go out and for a race or workout and things go poorly,
our friends are there to help us stay level-headed and grounded. We all have
off-days where things just don’t click for whatever reason. What makes you
strong is not letting those bad days get you down, but taking any lessons
from them and moving along. A third party is always going to be the best
person to remind us of this.
It’s also important to think critically about the progress you’ve made towards
your goals, and don’t be afraid to re-adjust your goals if necessary. If those
stepping-stone goals aren’t happening, it’s not the end of the world to
change the plan, either pushing the goal back or adjusting it. Think of it more
as postponing or redefining your goal, not giving up. That’s the beautiful
thing about our running goals – we have the right to change them whenever
If you fall short of a goal, it’s okay! Failure to achieve something is never
entirely a bad thing unless we don’t learn anything. Reflect on the process
that brought you there, see where I might be able to improve it next time,
and get back after it. For runners, this might mean having a long talk with
your coach about new workouts or increasing mileage. Failing to reach a goal
doesn’t have to be a bad thing, and for many runners, it just adds more fuel
to the fire. It’s important to remember that even Olympic gold medalists fail
sometimes. Even their progress isn’t a straight line upward.
If you do reach your goal, great! Enjoy the moment of accomplishment –
don’t forget; that’s important! But afterward, think about what’s next.
Self-improvement is a lifelong journey, and your new running goals give you
the chance and motivation to strive to be better than you were yesterday or
last year. Get back out there, take one more step forward, and see where it
What do you think?
Our question for you – What are your goals right now? Do you have
big goals that seem impossible? Smaller goals that should be
attainable? And how do you keep yourself motivated in the day to day
pursuit of these goals?
Leave a comment here on the blog (below) or on Facebook!