Sunday, February 19, 2012

Running Goals

As I mentioned in the previous post, I turned 50 this year. Turning 50 is one of those milestones that suggest that there should be some type of memorable goal to be set and achieved. I thought long and hard about the goals for this year, and I want to share those goals with you because part of what this blog will be is a chronicle of my attempts to achieve those goals. However, before I get to that, I wanted to reflect a bit on how the nature of goals changes over one's career as a runner.   

Runners are typically goal-oriented people from the start. Most runners come into the sport with a goal in mind, such as "I want to run a 5k," or "I want to do a marathon," or "I want to lose weight and get in shape."

For a new runner goals (and achievements) are easy to come by. The first year's steady stream of  running "firsts" keeps the beginner motivated and enthusiastic. The personal records (PRs) at all distances nearly every time one goes to a race continues to motivate a runner through a second phase. Eventually, though, for those who stay with it, goals become something that one has to put some thought into.

If you are still in that golden stage I hate to tell you this, but, sadly, it doesn't last forever. Eventually those improvements based on advances in general conditioning and fitness come to an end and further gains come only as a result of concentrated effort. That is when goal setting becomes important.  

For a veteran runner, clear cut long-term goals are a key to continued success. After that first flurry of  newness and PRs is over, runners can sometimes drift. Often with no clear cut "firsts" left to conquer and PRs getting harder and harder to come by, but with those training habits deeply engrained, runners continue running and racing, entering whatever race grabs their short-term attention and with no real plan.

This often leads to unsatisfactory results, which can cause some people to become frustrated and disillusioned, and it sometimes leads to injury as runners often attempt to enter races which they have not properly trained for but which sound "fun" at the time. Other runners stretch themselves beyond the limits of their training because the training has not been done with a particular distance or pace in mind. I have made both of those mistakes at various times in the past. My second and third year of running were plagued by injuries brought about by not having a clear focus and overextending myself in various ways as I did a little bit of everything, some of which I was not prepared for.  Not until I refocused with a clear cut goal, did I escape that cycle of injuries.  

For veteran runners goals can sometimes be difficult to set. The questions are numerous: Do I want to continue to chase PRs? At what distance? Do I want to return to old courses to try to set new records, or do I want to try new courses?  Do I want to try something a little different, such as trail running, ultras, track meets, adventure races, or triathlons? Finding the right answer to these questions can breathe new life into one's running.

However, finding the right answers to these questions can be difficult because there are so many options available, and saying "yes" to one often means saying "no" to others. There is a new term that has been created in this social media age. It is called FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). This is a big problem for runners who are socially connected in a running club or social network. There are a LOT of races out there, and all of them sound fantastic.  It is easy to want to do everything.  The problem is that you can't do everything -- at least not all at the same time.
As a beginning runner I had a hard time accepting this concept because in that golden first year or so, it seems like you can do everything and do it well. It was only when I hit that previously mentioned injury cycle that I realized the truth in the advice that some of the wiser veteran runners had been had been trying to give me about needing to focus and decide what I really wanted to achieve.

Now am I saying you shouldn't do some of those things that sound fun but which aren't on your plan? Absolutely not!  Anyone who knows me knows that I am often one to jump in and do those fun things. I dabble in triathlons. I will do a race because it has great "bling." However, it does mean that one has to keep the right mindset. I don't try to "race" those events. I am there for the participation. I try to do well, but I also temper my effort level and expectations so that I am not doing anything that will interfere with my more long term goal. Sometimes, if paced properly, you can do "races" that would not otherwise have fit the schedule as training runs with a particular focus in mind related to the long term goal. I will discuss that a bit more when I talk about my goals for the year. Also, if you stay with running long enough, you will have time to do many different things and set a variety of different types of goals. It just can't happen all at once.

(As an aside here, I have recently learned the joy of being a spectator or a volunteer at some of those races. It is NOT absolutely necessary to run in the races to enjoy them. Sometimes going and taking pictures can be a heck of a lot of fun, and your friends will appreciate the photos and encouragement. If you haven't tried it yet, you should. It's a blast.)

So, now with all that said, I am ready to tell you about my goals for the year. Unfortunately, that will have to wait for next post. I have to go for a run!


  1. The suspense is killing me!

    Great post. It took me over a year to realize I had to let the PR go and focus on other goals. I actually thought there might be something wrong with me for moving on.

    I'll second volunteering. Pacing is one of my favorite ways to do that!

  2. Thanks to Leslie, I'm following your blog now. I am a late start walker. I joined a walk to run group 3 years ago at Playmakers and flunked running. Found out that it's ok to walk - especially when I met Leslie!!! I have done a number of 5K's - and won some medals, bookmarks and bells. My proudest achievement has been the half marathons!!! yes, plural!!! I never dreamed that I'd be doing them.....but enjoy getting outside and walking. This year I turn a milestone - I try not to think about age, but this one meant some major changes. My walking will NOT change. I hope the miles will increase if my body can take far, so good.

    1. Linda, glad you found Lori's blog! She has some great info! She'll probably have you doing another trail race before you now it.

  3. Linda,
    Welcome aboard! I think one of the really great thing about this sport is that runners and walkers of any pace can get together and have a great time. I am so jealous of your bling! I have never gotten a bookmark or a bell. I am all about the bling. I laughed when I moved to Michigan because it seems like so many races give out cups and glasses. I felt like I could have just left all my old glassware in FL.

    Congratulations on aging up. I hope you have a lot of fun half marathons scheduled for this year. That is my favorite distance for road racing. I have Bayshore and Martian on my schedule now. Do you have any halfs scheduled?

  4. I don't have pace or PR goals. I'm pretty flexible with my pace--it doesn't seem to change and probably won't unless I do some serious speedwork/interval training, which I won't, because I'm pretty happy where I'm at. But really, when I finish a race slower than expected, I'm slightly disappointed, especially if there are no variables that would affect it (i.e., weather, how I feel, the course conditions). I'll probably have to accept an even slower pace than I am doing already at some point--I'll cross that bridge at another time (LOL, as if I could get any slower!).

    My goal this year is the Detroit Free Press full marathon--I've done the half 3 times, so I now I want to see the rest of the course. This may be my last marathon, but I've said that before and have now run 2. Chicago is still a distant goal--or Big Sur. :)

    Otherwise, I plan to run at least 2 halfs before Detroit, though I haven't registered for them. First is the CHUM Run in Dansville, the 2nd is CCRR. I might do the Fallsburg Half again in August, if I'm not on vacation at that time. And of course the Playmakers series of 5Ks throughout the summer--I really want that free bread for a year, which I've never been able to get yet!

  5. Beth,
    I know what you mean about being disappointed. It is hard, even when I know I haven't done anything to expect a PR, to accept a finish that is not what I hoped for. You seem to have a great mindset, though. One of the reasons I seldom run 5ks is that I am not up to putting in the serious speedwork necessary to do well, and I can't get my mind around the slower times.

    Your goals show perfectly how a veteran runner can change things up. New distances are a different challenge, and new destinations are always a really motivating goal for me. Big Sur is a beautiful course. I have not run the marathon, but I have driven the course many times.

    What is this "free bread for a year"? That is the type of goal I could really get motivated for!!!

    1. If you do the Playmakers series, you get a Great Harvest bread card. One free loaf per month. I'm not motivated enough to do a series of 5K's, I guess. My favorite bling is my wooden shoes for winning my age group at a race in Holland, MI. I'm with Linda though, the bells are pretty cool too. Mine goes on the Christmas tree every year.

  6. Leslie,
    Thanks for the bread info. That goes on my list. So, Ladies, tell me about these bells.

    1. Lori, You win a giant jingle bell for placing in your age group at the Jingle Belle Women's 5K.


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