Friday, September 12, 2014

Setting SMART Running Goals

When the new year rings in on January 1st, how many of you set resolutions or goals for yourself? I know I do. I always feel fresh and revived-- ready for big changes and challenges. It's easy to be excited at the prospect of a new year. But how many of us think about goal setting at other times of the year? 

Maybe you're wanting to PR your next race, attain a new position at work, make an impact on your community, get an advanced degree, or pursue some other dream you have. Your dreams can sometime feel overwhelming. You're unsure where and how to start; you're worried that you might not succeed; and you wonder what others might think of you.

Setting SMART goals is a great way to define what you are trying to accomplish, and to break it down into manageable pieces that fit within a specified amount of time. 

All components need to be present for a SMART reachable goal. Start with 3 mini goals and once you reach those build to a larger goal and stay on track!

Below I'll describe what SMART goals are, and how to apply them to running-- although, they absolutely can be applied to anything you want to achieve :) 

Specific 
You start by defining the goal as much as possible. Try to avoid ambiguous language. This is the who, what, where, when, which, and why. Here you want to define who is involved, what you want to accomplish, where will it be done, which constraints you have, and why you are doing it.

When I was training for my second marathon (you can read about it here) this past February, I struggled. There were countless times that I said, "Isn't training for and running a half marathon enough? That should show my dedication to a healthy lifestyle." And then I completed the race 20 min faster than my first marathon AND under my time goal :) Meeting that goal made me believe in myself. It taught me that my mind and body were much stronger than I give them credit for. And now I'll be running the Philadelphia Marathon in November!

To be specific, here's my goal: I will run the Philadelphia Marathon with Nick on November 23rd, 2014 because I want to push myself, achieve a better time, run through an interesting city, and have a reason to be active every day and continue to live a healthy lifestyle.  

Measurable
Next is to define criteria for measuring your progress. How will you demonstrate and evaluate the extent to which the goal has been met? This should answer the questions how much, how many, and how will I know when the goal is accomplished? 

As many of you probably know, I'm an engineer. I LOVE data. To measure my goal I will complete my fitness log after every workout. I will track the type of workout, calories burned, total time, splits, weather, how I feel, and anything else that was relevant. I will plot my mileage for the year and compare it to previous years.

In case you're wondering, I've been keeping an online fitness log since 2011. It's evolved over the years, and it's so much fun to look back on. I keep this log as a Google Doc so Nick and I can both add to it. It sort of feels like a personal diary, but if you're interested in checking it out, I'm open to sharing the link with you. Just ask :)

Here's a snapshot of my current mileage for 2014.
The blue line shows my mileage at 1117.3 mi.
  
Achievable
The next step is to make sure the goal is achievable. It's great to set lofty goals, but it's important to choose ones that you'll be able to accomplish if you're dedicated to putting in the work. The best goals require you to push yourself, but aren't so far out of reach that you won't truly commit to working towards them.  

When it comes to running a marathon, I know I can do it. I've proven twice now that it's achievable. What makes this goal tough, is the time component. I want a marathon PR. I want to finish this marathon in 4 hr and 45 min. That's fast. It will cut 6 min and 38 sec from my Myrtle Beach Marathon time. 

Love my Paceband!

In order to achieve that I've put together a pretty comprehensive training plan. I wrote a blog post here that goes into the weekly details of my training. I went into marathon training with a pretty decent mileage base. I was comfortable going out for 10 mile runs, and even had done a few 15-milers (two laps around St. Mary's Lake) before starting the plan. While it's important to focus on increasing mileage through the long runs; the key workouts for me are the speed days. This slow-poke runner will be doing 3x1 mile repeats this week at 7.3 mph (8:13 min/mi) and next week will be doing 12x1:00 min repeats at 8.7 mph (6:53 min/mi) on the treadmill.. yikes! 

Realistic (or Relevant)
Next, decide if your goal is relevant. It should be something you consider to be worthwhile. If not, you'll be unwilling and unable to work towards it. Your goals should always represent YOU. They shouldn't be compared to what others are doing. 

This one is an easy one for me. I want to live a healthy and fit lifestyle. That can take on many forms, but for me, running is a huge part of that. I can truly say that I love running. As someone who was never "athletic" growing up and was overweight as a child, running has taught me that I am not defined by what I "used" to be and that the human body is an incredible thing that can be pushed way beyond what we think our limits are.


Timely
Finally, your goal should include a time limit. It will establish a sense of urgency and better time management. Having a deadline will keep you motivated. 

The best way to get yourself up and running is to sign up for a race! I signed up for the Philadelphia Marathon in April or May, and started my training at the end of July. This will give me 18 weeks to get ready for the race. This is another area that having a detailed training plan is necessary for success. 

Side Note: I really enjoy strategizing and making training plans. If you're looking for some help, feel free to send me a message. I've made training plans for 7 half marathons and 3 full marathon, and I also have experience at the 5K and 10K distance as well. 


Defining SMART goals will set you up for success. When it specifically comes to running though, I read an awesome article from Another Mother Runner about race day goals. They suggest setting three goals for every race because you're bond to meet at least one of them! :)

They suggest having a time goal, race goal, and personal goal. I've followed this model for the last few races I've run and I really like it. 

This is what it would look like in practice (using my upcoming Philadelphia Marathon)--

Time Goals:
1) 4 hr 45 min
2) At least as good as my last marathon
3) Under 5 hrs
4) Finish

Race Goals: 
1) Not let my anxiety get the better of me 
2) Fuel properly before and during the race 
3) Stick to my predefined run/walk plan

Personal Goals: 
1) Encourage other runners who appear to be struggling 
2) High-five someone 
3) Not yell at annoying cow bell people 
4) Smile
5) Be grateful that I am able to run

So who's ready to set some goals?? :)