Runners tend to be very goal-oriented. It's a rare runner who doesn't set SOME sort of target for their next go-around of races or seasons. The phrase “goal setting,” however, can be intimidating to a lot of runners.
The end of one racing season usually means the beginning of another. At this time of year, many runners take time to assess their accomplishments from the past 12 months. High school and college runners in particular are gearing up for a new season of competition.
Whether it was running in their first 5k or qualifying for the Boston Marathon, runners tend to be very goal-oriented. It’s a rare runner who doesn’t set SOME sort of target for their next go-around of races or seasons.
The phrase “goal setting,” however, can be intimidating to a lot of runners. Some may look at setting a goal as making a commitment as unbending as finally committing to paint the bathroom or visiting those long-absent relatives in Idaho.
I’d suggest, however, that being “goal-phobic” may not be a bad thing. In fact, the lack of a structured goal may provide a better incentive. How many New Year’s resolutions have you ever set? Studies show that most resolutions are history before January is. How many race goals have gone the way of the do-do bird because of unexpected work or school projects? And how often have you planned a racing season only to have other life travails get in the way?
Anyone who straps on a pair of running shoes and walks, jogs, runs or races knows that “the goal” of getting from point A to point B, no matter what frequency you do it, is more the process and less the destination. In other words, arriving is less important than the trip itself. And sometimes, the detours are so much more enjoyable than the main route!
Prior to the summer of my junior year in college, our coach sat down with the team prior to break and asked us to avoid a written schedule. He also asked us to “just run” – no speed work, no hills, no tempo runs, no fartlek… just run. That’s hard to do for runners who had been taught to set priorities and to stick to the plan. But our coach was a former national champion in the three-mile run, so we listened.
In mid-August, we all arrived back at cross country camp, with lots of miles on our legs but no idea how many. Day One of camp was the annual five-mile time trial and race in Rote, Pennsylvania. Every single member of the team was at least 90 seconds faster than the year before, and a couple (myself included) were over two minutes faster. So much for goal setting, eh? Oh, and it was a great season with at least five of us breaking 27 minutes for five miles at some point in the season.
So how should you proceed? I’m not advocating Nike’s “Just do it” philosophy, but I might suggest that you’ll be a little less stressed out by the process if you just walk, jog, run or race the rest of the year and even into 2018 and let whatever happens … happen. In other words, plan a little less and enjoy a whole lot more.
If you are in the habit of writing it down and sticking to it, try to be a little more flexible in your approach. Rather than making Tuesday’s “tempo Tuesday” every week, aim for one tempo run that falls when it’s most convenient for you, not when it’s most convenient for your training group. If you plan on six races in the next 12 weeks, leave one or two of those races as “open” events, so if something pops up on the calendar that strikes your fancy, you’re not hemmed in by the written word. “Flexible structure” I call it. Yes, you may quote me.
And if Idaho seems too far to go visit those long-neglected relatives, check the race schedule in Boise.
Former standout Lock Haven University runner Andy Shearer is a member of the Middletown Athletic Club, the Greater Philadelphia Track Club and USA Track and Field.