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Coaches Blog

Goals Not Resolutions: A 2024 Guide to Setting Effective Goals for Endurance Athletes

Happy New Year! May 2024 be full of life and fulfillment! Some people relish the New Year season of setting resolutions and fresh beginnings. Others feel overwhelmed or uninspired by the process of writing resolutions. 


If resolution-writing is your jam, by all means, keep it up! If you’re more like me and you feel a bit overwhelmed or frustrated by the idea of setting year-long resolutions, may I suggest a slightly different approach? Let’s set some short, medium, and long-range goals rather than 2024 resolutions!


First things first, why are goals important? Behind every remarkable achievement lies a foundation of well-defined and carefully thought-out goals. Athletes who set clear, realistic, and challenging goals are more likely to experience success and continuous improvement.


Specificity is Key to Successful Goal Setting

One of the fundamental principles of goal setting is specificity. Vague objectives like "improve performance" lack the clarity needed for effective planning. Athletes should break down their goals into specific, measurable, and achievable components.


For instance, instead of aiming to "get faster," triathllete might set a goal of improving their power output on the bike by 10% or take 5 minutes off their marathon time. An ultra runner might set a goal of improving their average pace over their target distance. All these goals must also be set within a specific timeframe. So, you might tie these goals to a specific race (or a few races). 


Set Short-Term, Medium, and Long-Term Goals

Athletes often benefit from a combination of short-term and long-term goals. Short-term goals provide immediate targets, keeping athletes focused and motivated, while long-term goals offer a broader perspective and direction. This dual approach allows athletes to celebrate incremental successes while staying committed to the bigger picture.


Think of goal-setting as the process of completing an ultra run. Your ultimate goal might be to successfully complete the race (that’s a long-term goal). But, to accomplish this, you’ll need to break the ultra run into segments (intermediate goals) and further break those segments down into specific steps (short-term goals). Completing each step will help you perform well over a specific segment. As you put segments together successfully, you’ll achieve the long-term goal of accomplishing the race!


For example, one specific goal might be to consume 60-80 grams of carbohydrates per hour. When you successfully accomplish this goal, you are more likely to be able to hold a more consistent pace through the race.


Another specific goal might be to improve your downhill running abilities. Becoming a better downhill runner who is well-fueled throughout the race will set you up for a better overall performance. You get the idea. 


Make Goals Challenging but Attainable

While setting challenging goals is essential for growth, it's equally important to ensure they are realistic. Unattainable goals can lead to frustration and demotivation. Most athletes need a balance between pushing their limits and maintaining a sense of achievability. 


Moderate goals are more motivating, and they push you to work hard and extend yourself. Your goals should be satisfying to achieve.


Regular assessments and adjustments may be necessary to ensure goals remain challenging yet reachable throughout the season. If you achieve your goals too quickly, it’s time to step up the challenge. If you’re finding your goals frustrating and out of reach, it’s time to re-assess and consider whether they’re realistic (at the moment – they may just need to be moved a little further out in your journey). 


Clearly Identify A Timeframe To Accomplish Your Goal

Setting a goal of improving your FTP or average bike power will be ineffective unless you have a specific date or event to work toward. Instead of setting a goal of achieving an FTP of 250 watts per kilo, add a timeframe. “By Ironman Arizona 2024, I will have an FTP of 250 watts/kilo.” 


Create a Roadmap for Your Endurance Goals

Achieving athletic goals requires a strategic plan. Athletes should develop a roadmap outlining the steps needed to reach each objective. This could include a detailed training schedule, nutrition plan, and recovery strategies. A well-structured plan not only enhances performance but also provides a clear path to success.


This is where an experienced coach comes in clutch. Coaches are experts at breaking down long-term goals into short and medium-range plans. They’re also very experienced at assessing your current skills compared to your goals to ensure you’re writing realistic but challenging objectives. 


Focus on Process Goals

In addition to outcome goals (e.g., winning a competition), athletes should emphasize process goals that highlight specific behaviors and actions contributing to success. A mountain biker might set a process goal of consistently going to the skills park to practice some specific skills. 


Focusing on controllable aspects of performance helps you stay grounded and focused on continuous improvement.


Regularly Evaluate and Adjust Your Goals

Goal setting is not a one-time activity but an ongoing process. Successful athletes regularly evaluate their progress to celebrate achievements and identify areas that require adjustments. A great coach is a powerful resource in this process. Adjustments might involve tweaking training routines, reassessing timelines, or even modifying goals based on evolving circumstances.


Stay Flexible and Adaptable

The journey to athletic success is dynamic, and unexpected challenges may arise. It’s critical to remain flexible and adaptable, adjusting your goals as needed. This flexibility is not a sign of weakness but a demonstration of resilience and the ability to navigate the unpredictable nature of sports.


Setting effective goals is a cornerstone of athletic achievement. By embracing specificity, incorporating short-term and long-term objectives, maintaining a balance between challenge and attainability, creating strategic roadmaps, emphasizing process goals, regularly evaluating progress, and staying flexible, you can enhance your performance and unlock your full potential. 


As you pursue your goals with dedication and purpose, the path to success becomes not just a destination but a transformative journey of continuous improvement.

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