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Goal Setting

by Editor
Tuesday 18th February 2014
Tags  Gemma Bragg   |   Goals   |   UTMB

Gemma Bragg takes a close look at how goal setting can help to keep you motivated throughout the year

So January is out the way, the dark evenings and dark mornings are beginning to fade away and the light is creeping back in, hooray J It seems to have been a long winter I think purely for the fact that we have had a constant battering of heavy rain and cold winds and I fear we are not quite out of the woods yet either.

The endless times I have looked out the window into the pouring rain, put on my leggings, my waterproof jacket and headed out for a run so far this year, well I have lost count. I would usually describe myself as someone who embraces the ‘English’ weather, but even I have found myself cursing the rain and wind at times. Wading has also become a regular part of my running of late; wading through puddles or perhaps I should call them lakes, springs that have suddenly just popped up like magic from the ground. Fields, trails, paths are all just saturated, the minute you step outside the door your trainers are wet, your legs are wet, in fact everything’s wet- it’s just become standard of late.

So what is it that keeps us motivated on these cold, dark, wet days? What is it that gets us out the door, away from a warm cosy house and out into the cold, the wind and the rain?

This article is about Goals, the goals that we set ourselves, the reasons why goals are so important to a runner, to our training, the goals that keep us motivated, keep us focused:- the goals that push us out that door and into the cold.

In fact goals are an important element of everyone’s lives, whether you are a runner, a cyclist, a cricketer, whether you are a writer, a lawyer, a gardener, whatever we choose to do in life, without goals we would be hard pushed to get anywhere.  Although this article is focusing on running, we can apply goals to any area of our lives.

So back to the running....races are getting booked up so far in advance nowadays that you really have to be one step ahead of the game if you want to have a chance of booking on to that dream race. You almost have to have your race plan set up a year in advance, which seems crazy but perhaps it is a good thing, as it gives us something to train for and focus toward.

The difficulty we have through the winter months is often those ‘big races’, the ‘A Races’, are not until late June, July, August- they seem a long way off and we don’t want to ‘peak’ too soon with our training - so how do we keep focused in the short- term, in the months when it is dark, when it is cold, when the wind chill makes you feel like you are running in -10degrees? We keep our focus by setting ourselves short- term goals.

The two main types of goals are Long- term goals and Short- term goals - these can be broken down even further into for example a 5 year goal, yearly goals, and monthly goals and so on.   The Long- term goals are great; they set us up with a vision and place where we want to get too - that something to work towards. However you cannot build a house without laying the foundations first. If I was to say to a person that had just taken up running, ‘tomorrow I want you to go and run a 100mile race within 24 hours’, I would predict that they would find this very difficult to achieve and the chances of them pulling out after a few miles would be very high. I am sure that there are some people that would be an exception to the rule here, but on the whole for most people this would not be a realistic goal. The point I am making is that in order to reach your long- term goal, you need to put in the miles.

You need to build the foundations, the strength to reach that goal and to allow yourself the best possible opportunity to achieve your goal. To constantly keep trying to jump to the long- term goals is unrealistic and we are likely to set ourselves up to fail if we employ this method and way of thinking all the time, therefore we need to focus on the short- term goals, the goals that are realistic and are achievable. By doing this we are increasing our chances to reach our long- term goal, we are moving forward positively because we are achieving goals regularly and this makes us feel good and also gives us confidence to take the next step, taking us closer to that dream.   

First we need to focus on our immediate objectives. By doing this we will increase our confidence, we will be rewarded quickly which in turn will enhance our mental state as we feel more positive about our running and what we are achieving and this will give us the belief that we can achieve more as we get closer to our ultimate goal.

Having the short- term goals also keeps us focused in the present. If we are constantly focused on that big race in the summer, our motivation can waver particularly in the cold winter months. But if we can focus on the short- term goals then it will seem that little bit easier to get out the door and into the rain. 

I will now look to a personal example to help explain the use of goals; this year I have a lot of goals within my running, my ‘A Race’ being the UTMB. For anyone who is not familiar with this event, this is a 164km race around the Mont Blanc Alps, that includes 30,000ft of climb and is held on the last Friday in August 2014.   

I have raced the CCC the last two years (which is the sister race of the UTMB, although has now become recognised very much within its own right). This race is two thirds of the UTMB, 100km with 20,000ft of climb. The experience of racing the CCC has given me a platform to work from, it has given me the experience of running through the night and the technicalities of this, the experience of the mountain climbs and the effects of altitude, the extreme weather conditions you can experience in the mountains, the experience of the nutrition I need to fuel myself through the race and the kit I need during the race and the confidence that by August I will be ‘Ready’ to race! 

However I am not yet ready and that is because I still need to build upon the foundations.

As the UTMB is a mountain race, I will use the analogy of a mountain for my goal setting. To reach the top of the mountain - which is to complete the UTMB (the Long term goal), I need to work towards each camp, to feel comfortable and confident in that camp before I move on to the next. You can set up as many camps as you want as you make your way up the mountain.

To reach the long term goal you need to break it down into camps, these camps are your short term goals and by doing this you need to ask yourself, what is it that I need to do in order to reach my long- term goal?

An example of one of my short- term goals is the need to work on my strength. I recognise that I am slow on the climbs and in order to improve on these climbs my core strength needs to improve. I have never cross- trained before and although as runners we often have it drilled into us that this is something we should invest time in, it seems that we will often choose a long run over an hour or two of static movement. However the only way to improve my core is to cross- train, and so this winter I have started a weekly Pilate’s class and a body pump session. Pilates I actually really enjoy, body pump I am trying to adapt to, but it feels a million miles away from the peacefulness of the trails, all in a room with loud music on, pumping iron! It is not something that comes naturally to me and when you’re used to running for miles solo in the fresh air across open fields, it can feel a tad claustrophobic. But what keeps me going is my goal, as I know that going to these classes will improve my core and hopefully result in more strength when I am climbing those mountains in August.

There are many short- term goals I am currently working on within my running, to help improve my confidence, as well as my ability and overall endurance and strength. So if you are struggling to get motivated at the moment just take some moments over a cuppa and ask yourself, where am I currently within my running? Where do I want to be? And what is it that I need to do to get there? By asking yourselves these questions and establishing some goals that you can focus on now will really help your motivation and ultimately your chances of reaching that long- term goal!

Good luck and happy running!

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