Why you need more than one goal for a race

Even when we say that we’re just hoping to finish strong most runners do have a (potentially super secret) time goal in mind. For some races though it’s all about that one time goal like when you’re looking to Boston Qualify. It is only natural to have a goal in mind after spending literally months and months working only towards one great big physical goal. It is what you spend a lot of that time thinking about while training after all. But… I think you need to have more than one goal in mind. An A goal if everything goes perfectly, a B goal that would still be pretty great and then a C goal if race day just turns out not to be your day. This can be a hard thing to do for certain personality types who might only see one outcome as a success. It’s too easy to then think that arriving at the finish line mere minutes after you had hoped you’d be there this is somehow a failure and that’s simply not the case. So today we’re going to get into why you need a series of goals, how to set them and what they might be.

Why you need multiple goals

I’ve read about the idea of having multiple goals for a race a few places along the way but it is something I’ve always done. I think it’s just part of my natural personality to think out all the scenarios. I even put this idea in all of my training plans. I’ve met lots of challenges along the way in a totally different way then I thought I would when I started too. This happened to my mom for her first half marathon a little bit this year and it was sort of heartbreaking to watch. So the lesson here is if you don’t set multiple goals and fall short of your only one you’re really selling yourself and your accomplishment short.

I really like the idea of picking three goals, an A goal where if everything goes well you MIGHT be able to get to. Pretty much any PR is in this range. You might also call this the maybe goal. Then a B goal that is a lot more realistic. This can look really different depending on the person or race. Maybe it’s a PR just not as big of one. It could also be to run all the hills on race day this time.

Every race isn’t the same

The big race around here is Bluenose usually on the long weekend in May but … Nova Scotia weather means it could be rainy and near freezing or 25 c that weekend, one year it even snowed. So obviously the weather on race day could let’s just say vary. Every course is different too. A flat straight course is going to be perfect for getting you a PR but if you happen to be running a hilly course, today might not be your day. Come race day you might just not be living your best life. You might have race day nerves, an upset your stomach or you might have a really hard time with pacing. There are just so many things that could make you a little bit slower than you counted on. Personally I’ve had issues with my skirt being too tight and giving me a reoccurring cramp, a water bottle that kept falling and a bike chain that came off at least 4 times on race day. You can’t control everything so it’s good to have a few goals that will make you happy with your result just in case.

On top of that not every training period is the same. Sometimes we skip one run along the way sometimes it’s more like seven. Training doesn’t happen in a vacuum and all the other life stuff gets in the way. You might have skipped a few runs or not been able to give it your all when the plan called for it. Of course things might change in the 10, 12 or even 20 weeks you spend training for something. But … that will show up on race day. When setting your A, B and C goals for a given race you really do have to take into account how your training went and be honest!

Finishing is a success and a goal

Training for and finishing a race, of any distance, is already a huge accomplishment. If you happen to get to the finish line a few minutes later than you wanted to it’s all too easy to see the whole event as an abject failure even though that’s obviously not the case. Did you know that the vast majority of the population can’t even run 5k so finishing any race is a really big deal. It’s selling yourself short to reason that because lots of people cover a distance faster than you that diminishes you covering it too. Say you come last place in a marathon that doesn’t make you the looser that makes you a marathoner!

How to set your goals

I like the idea of a three goal set most times for myself. Usually my A goal is something I honestly doubt that I can achieve. I think the last time I had one of those was 2019 at the tire trot with the way the world has been lately. I wanted to break my 5k PR record that day even though it would be a tough course to do that on. The next goal, the B goal, is one that would still be a challenge but a totally doable challenge. My second goal for that race was was to come in under 30 for the second time. Using my system the third C goal is one that’s almost certainly going to happen. So maybe just to finish your race strong or have a great time and enjoy your new medal. By the way that day I met the B goal but not the A goal. These are some ideas for A, B and C goals that you might like to try:

  • Get a specific time
  • Get a slightly slower specific time
  • Beat your last record
  • Finish with more in your tank than last time
  • Leave it all out there and finish exhausted
  • Finish strong
  • Live until the end
  • Get super cute race photos along the way
  • Do something you thought you never could

There are lots of ways to have a very successful race without breaking your personal records. It’s not really fair to yourself to consider finishing a big race a failure at all. Even if everything goes totally wrong on race day (it has for me) having a goal to just have fun can save the day! What are your favorite race day goals? Leave it in the comments below!

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