I speak to many people who have decided to set themselves a fitness or running goal. This time of year you will know if you have a place in one of the big spring Marathons or you might be running Marathon des Sables or another ultra. Or maybe you are getting into running and aiming to take part in a beginners’ program to get to your first 5km. Whatever your target is you need a plan for how to realise your goal. You might be waiting for Christmas to be over and you will do like everyone else and start a fresh, new life on 1st January. How can you make sure that 3 weeks later you haven’t given up?
Unless you have already carefully thought through how you are going to reach your end goal, chances are you have piled it on top of an already endless list of commitments in a very busy life. The result will be even more stress than before and things constantly getting in the way whether more important or not.
The reality is that life is about making choices. When you acknowledge to yourself that you don’t need to do everything and you don’t have to be good at everything it gets easier.
So what should you be doing to succeed?
I suggest five steps:
- Formulate your goal. What is it that you want?
- Make your choices. What is going to give?
- Create a plan. How are you going to get there?
- Execute on the plan. What are you doing every day?
- Remember your motivation. WHY do you want this?
1. Formulate your goal
Determine what your goal is. The most common goal I hear is in relation to multi-stage races like the MDS is “I just want to finish”. If it’s your first Marathon it might be the same. Challenge yourself to a more specific goal, something that will be a carrot. For example “My goal is to finish in the top 300 in the MDS”, my goal is to run the Marathon in 3:45. If finishing is a stretch target in itself try to add some flavour to it. “I want to finish the race and I will aim to stay 1 hour ahead of the cut-offs every day. I want to have a great time and make new friends”. If your goal is to be able to run 5km, set a date for when you will achieve it or challenge yourself with a time too.
Why does it matter? Well it matters because the delta between your current situation (level of fitness, mindset, potential) and your goal is what determines what you need to do to get there. And if your goal is not clear, chances are your training will not be either.
If you struggle to know what a realistic goal is then speak to a coach. I help a lot of people define their goals based on their previous experience, available race data and other influencing factors.
“Without goals, and plans to reach them, you are like a ship that has set sail with no destination” – Fitzhugh Dodson
2. Make choices
So now you know your goal. How will your reach it? Only you can decide what needs to give in, and by the way, it can’t be sleep! If anything you are going to need more of it to absorb the training. Remember, you are not making sacrifices for life. We’re usually talking about a few months. Examples of what might help you carve out time and get more energy includes
- Being more strict about the hours you spend at work.
- Flex your work schedule to fit training in. For example can you train in the morning and come in 30 minutes later? Can you take a long lunch and go for a run? Or, can you leave earlier on a Thursday to make the yoga class?
- If you want to take it more seriously, can you ask for a temporary part time arrangement if finances allow?
- Learn the little word “no”. It’s very useful and people will understand.
- Avoid / cut down on social events (drinks with work and friends – tell the what you are doing and they will not only understand but admire your focus)
- Drop other hobbies for the duration required
- Ask your partner for additional support if you have children or other family commitments
- Eat a healthy balanced diet, ideally free from processed foods
“There are three constants in life… change, choice and principles.” – Stephen Covey
3. Create a plan
This can be a difficult part to get right. It may well be worth investing into assistance from a coach. If you can’t, try to speak to others who have done the event you are aiming for before and learn from them. There are also books about training for various distances. A training plan needs to be progressive, balanced and take into account your sporting history, goals, lifestyle, any previous injuries and medical condition. Don’t fall into the trap of doing too much too soon or putting too much pressure on yourself. A gradual build-up is key to staying injury free and maintaining motivation.
“Decide what you want, decide what you are willing to exchange for it. Establish your priorities and go to work.” – L. Hungt
4. Execute on the plan
So now you know your goal, you have carved out time to train (and rest!) and you have a plan. Time to start executing. Now it is all about discipline and it’s the tough bit.
Every day you will probably face a situation where you have options. Something will get in the way. The weather is rubbish, your boss wants you to take on some extra stuff, there are team drinks at work, your friends want to go out for drinks, the train got delayed so you didn’t make it to pilates after work, your mum calls just as you about to head out the door for your run… the list goes on.
Sometimes we need to compromise and that’s ok. But if you compromise every day you won’t reach your goal. You need to stick to the plan because it is what you do every day, the habit you create, that is going to make you reach your goal. With many other things in life we can get away with a huge effort just before a deadline. We pull out all stops and we somehow make it. But sadly your fitness doesn’t respond well to the procrastination method!
Prioritising is not always easy but when faced with a decision always ask yourself – “what option will help me reach my goal?” Usually the answer is evident but perceived pressures from others may lead you to go for the option that will not help you. The choice is always yours and only can make it. And frankly, who cares what other people think? It’s not their goal, it’s yours.
“What you do today can improve all your tomorrows.” – Ralph Marston
5. Remember your motivation
Your motivation is the glue that will bring all together. It’s your deeper reason and desire to achieve the goal you set yourself. When things get tough it is your lighthouse, your compass and northern star. It doesn’t matter what it is as long as it is important enough to you that it can keep you on track.
Let’s face it, we all have bad days or bad weeks and it’s ok. It doesn’t mean it is the end. Pull yourself together, re-connect with your motivation and keep working.
“With the new day comes new strength and new thoughts.” – Eleanor Roosevelt