With anything in life, it is difficult to end up somewhere specific if you don’t know where it is you’re going. Sure, there are times when it’s both blissful and appropriate to just float free, wander around aimlessly, and see where you happen to end up. But in athletics — particularly endurance pursuits — this is less than ideal.
As athletes with any sort of desire to improve, perform or benefit from our work, it’s imperative that we know where it is we want to go, so to speak, and just how we will get there. In order to expect achievement from ourselves, we need a goal, and a plan to achieve it.
Now that summer is officially here, you’ll most likely be hitting the trails, road, lakes — whatever suits you — in pursuit of some epic endurance workouts. But do you know where you’re ultimately headed? What are you seeking to gain from these workouts, and how will you use them to grow as an athlete?
If you haven’t thought about these things yet, and don’t have a goal attached to your athletic endeavors, I strongly encourage you to develop one. Setting goals for ourselves is how we push our bodies to improve; to strive for more. It’s how we hold ourselves accountable to putting in the work. It’s how we stay motivated on the days that are not so fun. Ultimately, it is how we determine the destination we’re aiming for.
There are no limits to the goal you can set for yourself. If you are someone who at any point in the week decides to put one foot in front of the other and run, any distance at all (or peddle, or move your body forward in whatever way suits you), then you are an athlete, and deserving of a goal and a plan to achieve it.
Some people, like me, are more motivated by really high goals that require daily work, persistence and a whole lot of grit to achieve. For other people, smaller goals work best. You can decide that you want to win a major race; that you want to complete your first race; that you want to increase your daily mileage from two to three, or want to conquer a certain trail; or that you just want to get out there every day and push yourself. It is completely up to you — it is your goal.
That being said, I encourage you to make sure your goal is both measurable (meaning you can determine when you’ve reached it), and attainable. While it should be something you have to push for (otherwise, what’s the point?!), it should be something realistic for you to achieve.
Lastly, make sure your goal is recorded in some way. You don’t have to announce it to the masses, but write it down, or share it with someone close to you. This will help you hold yourself accountable to your goal. Personally, I write mine in my training logs, journals and even on my mirror! I like seeing it daily as a constant reminder of what I’m striving for.
Now that you’ve got your goal and know where you’re headed, you can work on making your road map to get there. Determine the route that’s right for you, and set sub-goals as checkpoints along the way. Keep in mind that, as with any journey, we can very rarely stick precisely to our plan. This is why it’s important to consistently evaluate your progress, re-route if necessary and plan to take some detours.
In some cases, the final destination may even change. You may fall short, or decide to head a different direction. You may achieve your goal and then decide to set another, more challenging one. Regardless, the journey there will make you grow stronger. You will gain so much along the way. And in the end, you can look back at where you may have taken a wrong turn, accelerated too quickly or lagged behind, and plan to do better next time.
So as you head outside this summer, have a goal in your mind. Make it your own, and own it! Challenge, push and test yourself as you strive to achieve it. Let your goal be a fire inside that drives you. Let that desire carry you through the difficult days, encouraging you to push just a little further, a little harder, and to make the most of every opportunity you have to be out there.
— Kara LaPoint is an elite amateur triathlete competing for LUNA bar, and working up to the pro ranks. She has earned numerous overall amateur podium finishes and age-group wins across distances from Olympic to Ironman, and finished the 2011 season ranked as an All-American nationally among her age group (25-29). During the winter, LaPoint is a top local Nordic ski racer and coach. Read more about her racing and training at www.karalapoint.wordpress.com. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org