Short sprint – Big Goals

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.

Be DUMB in ’21

With Christmas past and 2021 around the corner, it’s a time when New Year’s Resolutions are being mulled over and decided upon then invariably they’re broken before January is out. In the sporting world we talk about goal-setting which is the same thing, it just isn’t confined to 1st January.

A typical New Year’s Resolution is to “Get fit”. The SMART acronym has been around long enough that most people know “Get fit” fails to be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Timed. It’s certainly not any SMARTER because it’s not Exciting and probably not Recorded (or wRitten down).

Personally I’m a fan of DUMB goals – these are “Doable, Understandable, Manageable, Believable”. Alternatively they can be “Dreamy, Uplifting, Methodical, Behaviour-driven” or even “Dangerously Unattainable, Monstrously Big” goals.

The difference between SMART and DUMB goals is inspiration.  SMART goals are simply a project plan – a typical SMART goal could be to “Run three times every week in 2021”. You’ve specified what you’re going to do, how it’s measured, when it’s done by, it’s realistic and achievable. But oh my, how boring. For sure, you’ll be into that goal for January and even for February but by springtime what’s going to keep you going?  Running three times each week has become part of your standard routine. And if you start to miss runs, what’s going to get you going again? The excitement of setting that goal back at New Year is gone, down the road you’ll be looking for new goals to liven up your life.

Now let’s look at the DUMB approach – it looks something like “Run a marathon in under 3 hours” or “Run sub-18 at parkrun” or even “Finish in the top ten of my local 10K race”.  Ouch – those are seriously tough goals but they’re also goals which would put you in the upper echelon of runners and bring lots of spoils and glory. (I’m assuming you’re not someone who has run 3hr01, 18:05 or finished 11th! But if you are then start thinking sub-2hr30, sub-15 and winning) For the average person these goals look difficult and that’s the point.

  • What sort of commitment would you have to make to achieve them? A big one.
  • How much effort would you have to put in? Lots.
  • Would you be guaranteed to achieve it? Certainly not.

The uncertainty of success and risk of failure avoids complacency (providing the stick) for achieving something special (the carrot). But notice also these DUMB goals aren’t impossible, I’m not suggesting you try to set a world record or win the Olympics, only that you embark on achieving something special. It’s a special that has to be something you consider special – not something you hope will impress others on social media, at work or at home. It has to be a special that impresses you and would make you happy or glow with pride to achieve. The more personal and special you make it to you, the more driven you‘ll be to complete it.

When you set big goals – you have to commit and work hard. Setting goals that are out of your comfort zone, forces you to get out of your comfort zone. You can’t continue to simply do what you’ve done before. You have to get creative, maybe investigate hiring a coach, following a training plan, joining a running club and getting out on the cold, winter’s nights. But notice that it also means you have to run three times every week to have a chance of achieving it – you’ve automatically integrated what was a SMART goal to help on the journey to achieving the DUMB goal.

I used to say “Plans have to be realistic, dreams don’t”. You allow yourself to dream then create a realistic plan to get you there. Like any journey to a far off place, you keep checking the roadmap to ensure you’re on course. If things are going awry you take stock of where you are, reset your plan and then go onwards again. Of course your dream may be something you know will take many years to achieve but it’ll always be there in the background inspiring you; the thought of achieving it keeps energising you to take action. But you do have to buy-in and commit to it, it’s no use saying “I’d love to run a sub-4 marathon” and forget about it by the next day. That’s unproductive day-dreaming – it’s good to spend some quiet time thinking about what truly matters to you and evaluating how committed you’re really willing and able to be.

“Plans have to be realistic, dreams don’t”

A word of warning though. When you allow yourself to dream big and begin to get excited about what you might achieve, don’t go telling other people about it. If you’re a thirty minute parkrunner, who decides to run a three hour marathon; other people will want to be your voice of realism. All but a few will be quick to point out the flaw in your plan –you can barely run a parkrun at ten minutes per mile, let alone complete a marathon over three minutes per mile quicker. Limit conversations to telling people about your easily achieved SMART stepping stones such as “to go running three times per week” or “to join a running club” because their realism can handle that. Only start to tell other people about your big goals when they’re incredulous about how well you’re progressing and wondering why your parkrun times are tumbling. But even then, exercise caution in who you tell – keep it to people you know who will be supportive rather than crushing.

So dream big, find something that inspires YOU, but also something you’d be proud and excited one day to tell your friends and family you attempted. Ultimately it’s not about whether you achieve the goal, it’s about the journey and process of committing to something meaningful to YOU. When you find a goal that excites YOU, you’ll find yourself feeling alive and vibrant. Once you’ve got that big DUMB goal, figure out the specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, timed steps you can take on your way to achieving it. You’ll find the success or failure of the SMART goals doesn’t matter any longer because they’re simply steps along the way as you try to achieve your something special.

What DUMB goal will you set for 2021?