With the New Year getting started I've been making resolutions and setting goals for 2013, as I'm sure many of you have! I wanted to share an excerpt from Michael Johnson's "Slaying the Dragon" on goal setting, and also an article from Portland Running Company's Christina Overbeck Crawford. I thought they both had a great way of outlining specific ways to achieve your goals.
Here's a link to Christina's article:
Dream Big, Share Your Goals, and Have a Blast!
With the New Year here and the start of the racing season approaching, many of us runners are starting to think about our goals for 2013. This last year I competed in the Olympic Trials marathon, a goal that I worked towards for two years! I learned a few valuable lessons on setting and attaining goals through that process.
Lesson No. 1: Set an Ambitious Goal
It sounds obvious, but I hear many people setting goals that they are too certain that they can meet. Although guaranteed success, a goal that is too easily attainable is not exciting and thus less motivating. See if you can fill in the blank with your goal, “I don’t know If I can do _____, but that would be SOO sweet if I did!” The goal should be something that you can daydream about on long runs, something that gets you out of bed in the morning, and something you are just plain pumped about!
Lesson No. 2: Set Little Goals along the Way
While important to have a tough goal, having little attainable goals along the way is also important. It provides you with confidence and fuels your motivation for the larger goal. In addition, small goals like a short strength routine or adding strides to a few runs a week, give you an opportunity to tweak your training, keeping you fit and healthy.
This has been the most important thing I have learned. Like many runners I tend to quietly pursue my goals, crushing speed workouts alone while most are still sound asleep in their beds. But the first time I openly spoke about a running goal was when I decided to try to qualify for the Olympic Trials. It was uncomfortable having others know my my goal. This is a common feeling among runners. It is risky and uncomfortable to openly share your goals to others, knowing that you may not succeed. I found, however, that this openness led to accountability, camaraderie, and most importantly, it was FUN! By being open about your goals, it allows others to participate in your quest with you. Friends will start asking how your training is coming and it may inspire others to set goals of their own. Having others involved also helps you push through those tough days or weeks in your training. By being open about your goal you will likely meet others with similar dreams offering opportunities to train and encourage each other.
You won’t reach a goal if you don’t keep it fun. Having a secret goal, working alone, relying on your own inner strength and dedication gets tiresome and mundane. Dreaming big, working hard with a purpose, supporting friends and having them supporting you...now that's fun, and probably fast!
Michael Johnson, who won gold medals in the 200m and 400m 1996 Olympics, writes:
"Imagine your life as a series of races, a strand of goals on the way to some larger accomplishment (usually far off and unfocused at first, like the Olympics). Connecting those smaller goals are training and plans, and the more refined you become, the closer you move to your ultimate goal -to fulfilling that core desire inside of yourself- the more you realize that the plans are the really important part, more important even than the goals.
Plans are the string holding the pearls together.
Your goals will become closer and closer together as you improve in your chosen area. I don't play very much golf, but I am told that lowering your score becomes progressively harder the more you play the game. It is that way with everything. When you begin to perform at higher levels, the only difference between winning and losing, between succeeding and failing, is the precision and preparation of your plans.
So, at the beginning of the season, I sit down with my coach and with other people whose opinions I value. And I think about what I want to do that year. When I've identified specific goals, I write them down on a sheet of paper. Then I ask myself the old Paul Johnson Sr. question, 'How are you going to do that?' That's when I connect the dots, stringing plans between these goals. This year, of course, my goal was to win Olympic gold medals in the 200 meters and the 400 meters, so I wrote that down.
But to get that far, I had to convince the Olympic committee to change the schedule so that heats for both races weren't held on the same day. I wrote that down as well. But first, I had to qualify for both events at the Olympic Trials. And before that, I had to be at peak sprinting performance and have increased stamina. And to get that far, I had to adjust my training schedule, sharpening it to improve my training to be able to run two very different races. And to do that...It goes on and on.
The point is that to improve incrementally, you must plan incrementally. And the best way to do that, to think it all through, to make sure you've missed nothing, is to write it down. A written goal is a contract with yourself and a constant reminder of all you have to do. Having a record is vital; it's the first step in learning to put yourself on the hook, to being responsible to yourself.
It is also important to be specific and realistic when you set goals. I had been the number one- ranked runner in both the 200 and the 400 at different times in my career, and although I'd only run both races in the same meet twice, I was in a better position than anyone else in the world to try winning both. That's being realistic.
I could easily have set more unrealistic goals. For instance, I have also run the 100 meters a few times in my career, and to have won all three races would have been incredible and unprecedented.
It would also have been impossible. Being realistic isn’t settling for less than you’re capable or doing; it isn’t throwing away your dreams; it’s simply acknowledging that, right now, you are incapable of doing some things. And it only works if you are able to take pride in the things you can do. My mother and one of my sisters are teachers and another sister is a school counselor. I admire them deeply and I imagine they dream of improving the lives of every student they come in contact with. But they are also realistic and know that they might not reach a few. Those are the times to revel in your successes, in the kids who make it.
The ability to set realistic goals only comes with experience and with the intimate knowledge of yourself that you acquire when you’ve worked hard and tested yourself. When in doubt, scale your goals back a little bit. If the aim is realistic, you’ll get there soon enough.
Being specific is also key. At the beginning of the season, I charted out the days, weeks and months before the Atlanta games and figured out where I needed to be at each step along the way. That work is what tightens the focus on the dreams and turns them into goals. I set my pre-Olympic goals breaking 44 seconds in the 400 meters and breaking 20 in the 200. That way I knew I would have running times that would give me great chances of winning gold medals in both events (assuming everything else went according to plan). The importance of specificity can’t be overstated. If I’d just set goals of running well in the 400 and the 200, the string connecting my goals would have been weakened and I might have settled for less.
That doesn’t mean that if you don’t reach each interval, each intermediate goal, you should give up on your larger goals. I never did break 44 seconds in the weeks before the Olympics. But I didn’t panic and I didn’t beat myself up. I just kept going, and in the end having a sub-44-second 400 as a goal- even an unachieved goal- helped me sharpen my training and win in Atlanta- where I set an Olympic 400-meter record of 43.49 seconds.
In all of this, I believe, the first step is knowing yourself. Cars are built now with on-board computers, small processors that constantly check and recheck the status of every operating part, that tell you when your door is open and even provide guidance systems to help you get where you’re going. The on-board computer that you’ve been blessed with is a far more refined and impressive piece of machinery. However, in some people the computer has lost power through inactivity or its flashing messages have been ignored. I think that most of us have an innate sense of what we want and how to get there. You owe it to yourself to constantly check and recheck your computer, to assess the information coming from your mind, your body, your core- the place where your dreams and ambitions lie. Your ambition may be an education. It may be getting your body in shape, losing weight, falling in love, battling cancer. It may be sculpture, poetry, or the 200-meter run. No matter what it is, you owe it to yourself to figure out what you are chasing.
And how you might catch it.”