As I completed my long run this morning, I was thinking about recent televised races. In particular I was thinking about Charlotte Purdue running 2hr23 in London to become the second fastest British woman ever. What does she do now? That’s what goal-setting is all about, giving yourself and your training a direction.
I’m sure she will sit down with her coach and come up with a plan towards running at the next Olympics in 2024 given that she missed out this year. And in the intervening three years there will be other championships and races to focus on. Each of these will be used as goals to chase.
What I was also wondering was whether she’ll target becoming the fastest British woman ever. To do that she’d have to run 2hr15 to outdo Paula Radcliffe. Knocking eight minutes off your marathon time at that level, especially in her thirties will be almost impossible but that doesn’t mean she shouldn’t target it.
My belief about goals is somewhat existential. It’s not necessarily the achievement of the goal that matters but the act of setting it and going after it. Because having a goal, and a tough one at that, forces you to go to your limits. It forces you to explore all the options.
Let’s say Purdue does decide to try and get down to 2hr15, it’s such a big goal that she’s going to have to look at every single aspect of her training. If it were me I’d look at the coaching, the diet, kit, shoes, strength training, running form. I’d look for gaps in my training e.g. altitude (or hypobaric chamber in place of it); hills, psychology, aids to recovery and so on. Every single aspect.
This is how Alberto Salazaar ran the Nike Oregon Project to try and create success. Unfortunately while it looked to be innovative (e.g. ice caps at aid stations in hot marathons) it also tested the “grey areas” which eventually resulted in Salazaar’s four year ban for overseeing doping.
At the same time as trying to find the untapped potential, you can’t get too far away from what has been successful. In Charlotte’s case, she needs to ensure she can still perform in races to earn her living as a professional. Too much change could see her getting slower or missing her athletic peak.
For us lesser runners you wouldn’t necessarily try every avenue of opportunity. After all, most couldn’t afford to go altitude training or train in the latest shoes every day. But there could certainly be simple changes which leverage into big benefits. For example, getting a coach or even simply following a plan.
Bear in mind that if you have big goals but aren’t logging the miles to begin with, there’s little point in trying the stuff which makes 1% difference. Regular and frequent training is first and foremost the thing that gets you fast. Someone at Purdue’s level is looking for the just noticeable differences that could give her an advantage.
Returning to what I said about it not mattering whether you succeed in achieving big goals, it’s because while Charlotte might not reach Paula’s 2hr15 standard, she could end up breaking 2hr20. That would be a great experience and achievement in itself. Note: Charlotte may not go after Paula’s record because she decides on other goals, I’m just using the suggestion for clarity of writing this.
If you only set goals which are easily ticked off*, you have no reason to explore and investigate all the options. That’s how most people operate, they keep setting achievable goals a little above where they’re at until they repeatedly fail to achieve one. At this point, they believe they’ve reached their potential and go in search of new vistas which have fresh, new easily-achievable goals to accomplish. Think of how many runners quickly move from parkrun to 10K to half marathon to full ones.
* When you set a major, longterm goal it’s important to have milestones on your plan to achieving it. Those milestones are what most people consider to be goals.