gotta have goals

rocky reaching for his goals

little man

There’s a little man inside my head, and this time of year he gets particularly vocal about goals and achievements. I suspect we all have a little person inside who nags us along. Mine is particularly obsessive and petulant. No stone gets left un-turned, no opportunity for self doubt left behind.

“Lets go through the things you got wrong shall we? Wow, that’s a pretty long list.” – snicker
“Did you achieve anything you set out to do this year?” – sneer
“Who the hell do you think you are anyway?” – sheesh

The thing is though. I can’t live without this little guy and without him I’d wander around aimlessly.

The following are some thoughts on goal setting that have been tumbling through my head the last few weeks. I’ve been somewhat demotivated, perhaps by the winter season, perhaps by low energy, perhaps perhaps perhaps. I’m not sure. But trying to focus on goals I think will get me through this little funk. Perhaps.

on not having any goals

There’s nothing wrong with having no goals, at least in regards to running. Sometimes not having a goal is reward enough. The rest of our lives may be filled with obligations and worries, and running may be the only outlet or release valve. This is how I have approached running in the past. A way to meditate, to collect thoughts, to reflect. I think this is how most people approach running and are attracted to it. It’s a relaxing activity to go out and have fun, not worry about getting faster or beating someone in a race.
This year for some unknown reason I decided to see how fast and far I could push myself. The goal changed just a little from recreational to a more serious goal. Hopefully I can keep the relaxation aspect of running intact as I go along this path.

setting realistic goals

The most difficult yet necessary rule. It’s hard to know what a realistic goal is when you have little experience or frame of reference. This comes with time and experience. Trial and error. I used to have goals that were so unrealistic they were laughable. I would extrapolate my pace from a 5k out to a marathon, thinking I could just run the marathon in that pace. I would expect the same running pace for a run in the mountains as on the roads. I would dream of getting to the Olympic trials and so forth. I still do to be honest. But now they are just harmless fantasies as apposed to unrealistic goals.

when in doubt, undershoot

It’s better to reach your lower goal than to never reach a goal ever because it was too hard to begin with. Try to section larger goals into smaller manageable chunks. This way you have something to build on, and some confidence. Take every step up the ladder and don’t skip steps. Narrow in on a range for your goal and shoot for the lower end of it, especially if you’re not sure you can make it.

but don’t be too easy on yourself

The goal has to be challenging enough where you actually feel some sense of accomplishment, otherwise what’s the point in having a goal in the first place? You have to be able to put yourself on the line and be able to fail sometimes. Failure is always a learning opportunity. Don’t set yourself up for failure too often, but embrace it when it happens. This will make the goals you do achieve even sweeter.


It’s important to have an active fantasy life. I’ll visualize myself in a race or a run, usually while laying in bed the few minutes before falling to sleep. (not every night of course) Go through your pre-run gear checklist, imagine running and passing people at certain points in the race. Try to anticipate and fill in the gaps from the course that you’re unfamiliar with. All this helps put you in the mindset of having a good race.

be honest with yourself

Sometimes it’s hard to admit you have some real limits. We all can dream of being Olympic athletes, but when it comes down to it, most of us don’t have what it takes. Lying to yourself is a sure road down to disappointment and failure. Living in denial about a nagging injury for months, running through the pain, this will just hurt you more in the long run. (pun!) At this point you should shift your goals to recovering and then to remaining injury free. If not you will repeat the cycle and end up at square one each time. Getting out of repetitive destructive cycles is tough, but necessary. And being honest with yourself is the first step.

nothing is set in stone

Things change, life happens, expectations suffer. Goals have to change as well at some point by necessity. Being too rigid with what you expect out of the future is unrealistic. Shift your goals around, chop them up, drop some, add some. Be fluid with your goals. Not completely wishy-washy of course. But flexibility is part of life, there’s no sense in running into a brick wall.

be confident when you change course

Changing course is inevitable, but it’s also very important to spend time in this moment. You should evaluate all the aspects that go into your goal and how it should be modified. Don’t just change course on a whim. It has to be directed and with purpose. If not, then you’re just changing things without knowing what you are doing or trying to accomplish.

it’s about time

Break you’re goals up into discreet time periods, short term, medium term and long term. The further out the goal, the looser the criteria. The closer the goal the more realistic it should become and the more confidence should kick in. As the longer term goals get closer, the more refinement and focus there should be.

Never set hard long term goals and just stick to a hobbling broken plan to the bitter end. Saying you want to run a sub 18 minute 5k one year out when you currently run at 20 minutes is an achievable goal. But if you are 6 months in and are having trouble breaking 19:30, well, then it might be time for some adjustments.

don’t let your goals define you

It’s very important to keep perspective on things. Running is just one aspect of your life, and the goals you have here shouldn’t interfere with other parts of your life and identity. You don’t want to end up a meat head is all I’m saying. I’ve known some highly focused top athletes and artists who placed 100% into what they loved and sacrificed most other aspects. In some ways you can stunt your growth as a whole person by obsessing too much on one thing. Try to stay well rounded.

having a plan Z

Here we start getting mental. So what do you do when all your plans fall apart? You have to be able to deal with complete failure. So having a plan Z is essential. This is a whole can of worms that could be good for a separate post, so I’ll keep it short here.

Learn from you failures
Cliche but true. It’s how you react when things are not going according to plan that define us. Once you realize this, you are free to be a failure, to revel in it.

There’s always a silver lining
Always. For the ones who are at the very bottom, it’s the opportunity to rebuild from the ground up.

Relish in the feedback loop
Each goal is a small cycle part of many small cycles, parts of larger cycles. Try to live in the moment of each cycle when it comes around again. Like an old friend.

It’s all in your head
Seriously it is. Dealing with failure is a mind game. Self doubt and disappointment are things that need to be dealt with head on, or else you start becoming defined by your failures or what you think are failures. A very dangerous place to be in. Get out of it.

Don’t beat yourself up
So plan Z is pretty much just chill man. Act like the dude, be zen. Tomorrow is another day. We grow, we develop, we shrink, we die, so enjoy the process as much as possible. Use the energy in a positive way, don’t brood and feel sorry for yourself or blame others. Take a step back and reassess, objectively try to find out what you did right and wrong. Have a plan, adjust expectations and live to fight another day.

I hope this is helpful for someone, at the least it was helpful for me.

cheers and happy running.