Evaluating and Goal Setting - July 2003
By the time most of you read this article, the annual running of the Peachtree Road Race will be a memory and that prized shirt you claimed will have been through the wash at least once. Many folks point to the Peachtree as their highlight race of the year, while many others lay low this time of the year to beat the heat and get ready for the fall. At this point of the racing calendar, it may be a good time to re-evaluate how your running has been going and make any necessary adjustments to your training to keep you on course to reach the goals you set earlier in the season.
What's that you say? You don't have any goals! Whoa! This is the main point I'd like to address if you're seeking to become a more competitive runner. Besides goal setting, some common mistakes that I have observed some runners make (including myself!) are inadequate training and inadequate preparation (no "game plan"). Let's start with setting goals.
GOALS ON MY MIND
Not having running goals is like traveling without a road map. You may zoom along on the freeway, but if you need to take an unfamiliar route, watch out! Being goal-oriented will keep you focused and on task. It should also help reinforce the discipline that running requires. Your goals need to be specific, not general. There's a big difference from a goal of finishing a marathon and running a marathon in three hours! Your goals also need to be realistic. Your goal may be to run a 5:00 mile, but it will not likely happen if you're jogging twice a week.
You need to include short- and long-term racing goals. Short-term goals ought to be for one year or less. Long-term goals may be anywhere from 2-10 years down the road. The unfortunate downside to distance running is that it takes many years of running to see the "fruits of your labor." If you're not in it for the long haul (that's why it's called distance running!) than you're going to be very disappointed. I watched many runners quit before they see the payoff.
Your short-term goals may be consistent training over the course of a certain period of time. Or it may be lowering your time for a particular racing distance. These short-term goals should be very attainable. The long-term goals should be challenging and hopefully reachable. A long-term goal could range from making a college team to making an Olympic team! You'll need goals along the way to point you in the direction your seeking. But be sure to write your goals down on paper (or computer) and post them where you can see them EVERYDAY!
Once you have established some goals, your training should be geared to help you attain your objectives. Going back to my earlier example of the 5:00 mile, if you don't train adequately, you will not succeed in reaching your goal. Many inexperienced runners have the misconception that the shorter the distance the less mileage (and distance) they have to run. Well, if your goal is to run a 6:00 mile, then distance may not be that important as speed is, but if you're gunning for a 4:00 mile, speed and distance are both important. Running distance is just like laying a foundation. The deeper and broader the base, the stronger a foundation you’ll have to build on.
Most inexperienced runners do not train enough to prepare them for competition. The great John Wooden said, "Failing to prepare is preparing to fail." Your training plan needs to include an adequate period of training to get you ready for racing. How much training is adequate? It depends on your experience and the distance you're aiming to run. If you're just starting out, you need to gradually build your base mileage to at least 30 miles per week if you're racing distances of 5K or less over the course of 12 weeks. For many of you, this already sounds like a tall order, but again it is important to have realistic goals. For some, 30 miles per week may not be enough, particularly if you're planning to run a marathon.
After your base training comes the sharpening and racing/peaking phases. This is where you work on speed and adjust according to your racing. Once you start racing, your plan needs to include a set schedule of races over a pre-determined timeframe. High-level runners limit the number of races they'll compete in during their sharpening and racing/peaking phase. I'm sure you've read about the guy that runs a marathon a week. This guy is not racing. He may think he is, but he is not going to hit quality times for very long. Most high-level marathoners run maybe two marathons a year. They work in "shorter" races during the sharpening phase to set them up when they're attempting their goal time.
Smart training and racing includes adequate recovery time and rest. If you don't build this into your plan, you will not hit your best efforts in races and will likely get forced rest time brought on by injuries. I know that race directors will not like to hear this, but if you're racing more than two times a month during your racing/peaking period, you're competing too much. I've made that mistake before. I recall racing six weeks in a row. I ran good, consistent times, but did not see much improvement between week one and six.
From personal experience, my best improvement after college came in the 10K. After taking six months off, I gradually (over the course of a year) built up my mileage to an adequate level (about 70-80 miles per week). During my sharpening phase, I ran one 10K that bettered my personal best by about 12 seconds. A month later, I began my racing/peaking phase. I ran another 10K and improved my best time by a minute! Then, two or three weeks later, I lowered my 10K best by another 15-20 seconds! After one or two low-key races, I rested.
Having goals are important for those trying to improve on their running times. Having several short-term and some long-term goals will keep you motivated and driven to succeed. As long as you properly prepare yourself with ample base (distance) and speed training, you should see improved times over the course of the next six months to 12 months. It’s not too late to start training for next year’s Peachtree Road Race!