Here is my take on how to set goals for athletic performance and how to work your way toward that goal. A good goal is based on the “SMART” goal building format with an underlying “Why”. A SMART Goal is Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Timely. To set a time-based goal, you need experience in the race first. If you are running your first 5k or first marathon, your goal should be to finish. From there, you can build time-based goals. Check out the previous post on how to start a running program.
Specific: Use action words to say what you want to do. Who, What, Where.
Measurable: A specific number to work towards and a clear definition of accomplishment. Data!
Achievable: This defines how intense the goal is going to be and how to shape training blocks. The goal should be almost out of reach. This takes time to learn how to set goals that will be hard but not too hard.
Realistic/Relevant: Now evaluate what kind of time and commitment you can honestly put forth to achieve the goal. Is the training required to get there within your capability?
Bad Goal: I want to run a faster 5k.
There is nothing here to work towards or build a training plan from. A goal like this means you probably run a couple of times per week with no structure.
Better Goal: I want to take 3min off my current 5k best.
Here we have a measurable goal. However, it’s hard to tell if this is achievable or if you have the time needed to get there and there’s no deadline.
Best Goal: My Current 5k PB is 21:05 and I normally run 4 times per week. On March 22nd, 2020, there is a local 5k and I want to run under 20min for the first time.We have a specific goal, to achieve on a specific date. We can build a training plan around this goal very easily and work towards it. It’s not too far out of reach and we have enough time in our current training calendar to work towards it.
Bad Goal: I want to run a marathon
Better Goal: I want to run the Chicago Marathon at some point
Best Goal: Today is December 12th and I won a lottery entry to the Chicago Marathon for October 11th, 2020. I want to finish the race.
We know how to enter, know the race date, and have plenty of time to build a training plan to work towards this goal. Although there isn’t a specific time, we do have a metric to measure success, “Finish”.
A good goal will drive your training plan until race day. Write the goal down on a sheet of paper and keep it next to your bed. On a cold, rainy Tuesday morning, you can look at your goal when you are about to hit the snooze. Keep a goal sheet in the car to remember why you don’t need fast food on the way home. Goals should be an accomplishment that take extra amounts of work. Completing the goal should lead to a healthier way of living, a new consistent activity level, and potentially a new group of friends or community to encourage you to your next goal.
I am not going to claim that I know everything about training plans. I still think beginners just need to get outside, run consistently, and enter a few short races to get an idea of their time commitment and race pace. After a year of consistent running and a few races, you can use a well-structured goal to build a training plan. The plans are highly individualized based on your goal. I am not going to say you need to do a certain amount of work at different zones or distances. Training plans should not go more than 4-6 weeks in the future. You are always developing and changing. A 12-20week program is a massive block to start. Instead, do a 4-week session, test yourself, and build the next 4-6-week session. The SMART Goal you built will guide your long-term training. There are several fundamentals that you should consider incorporating that are consistent in most training programs.
This is the core of my training. I have been doing test sets since swimming in 8th Grade and hated every second of them. However, these are the best session every month. Think of them as mini races where you go all out. If you have 4 or 5 months between races, these sessions are even more important. A benchmark workout is normally an interval session at race pace. They are designed to bring confidence to your training and keep the fir going. Lionel Sanders, 2nd Place Ironman Kona 2017, has talked about benchmark workouts several times. In 2018 he had 3 workouts he wanted to hit to know he was ready for Kona: 1000-yard swim holding 1:12/100, 4x30min bike holding 380w, 4x5k run holding 16min. He probably started the runs at 1x5k holding 16 or maybe 2x5k holding 16:30. However you do it, each session should build on the previous session to show development over a 4week period. If you miss your goals, then it’s a perfect time to reevaluate your training. Maybe you need to add or remove some pieces.
Goal: My Current 5k PB is 21:05 and I normally run 4 times per week. On March 22nd, 2020, there is a local 5k and I want to run under 20min for the first time.
|Session 1||Session 2||Session 3||Session 4|
|Week 1|| Volume:|
1mi jog, 1 mi walk
4×400 RP CD
|Long Run: 4mi|
|Week 2||1.5mi jog, 1 mi walk||WU |
2×800 RP CD
|Long Run: 5mi|
|Week 3||2mi jog, 1mi walk||WU|
6×400 RP CD
|Long Run: 6mi|
|Week 4||2.5 mi jog, 1mi walk||WU|
3×800 RP CD
Goal: Race Pace, short rest