Chasing Goals, Part I

I’m not the kind of person who does things just for fun.

Sure, I have fun, but not usually the spontaneous kind. Most of the things I do are planned – usually well in advance and often in pursuit of a goal of some sort. I find I’m at my best when I’m chasing something I want to accomplish.

Typically, I follow the guidelines for SMART goals, which are as follows:

Specific
Measurable
Attainable
Relevant
Time-Bound

In short: The goal should be something you think you can accomplish, it should have a deadline, it should be worth doing, and you need to be able to know after the fact if you managed to meet it or not.

When I first started running, I was having trouble sticking with it because it was hard work. It still is. But a friend and I were both getting into it around the same time and we set a goal together – to run a 10K. (This is 6.2 miles, and a fairly standard distance for a running race).

We figured anyone can do a 5K, so we’d set a harder goal and the feel more accomplished about it when we were done. We signed up, found some training plans online to follow, and we both finished the race.

I then immediately set a new goal to run a half marathon at the end of that same year. From the time I started running, I thought that one day I might run a half marathon, but if I had set that goal from the get-go I might have given up right away. To go from running no miles at all to running 13.1 all at once, well, that’s a big leap.

But here’s the thing about achieving one small goal at a time: After a while it gets kind of stale and maybe you just get accustomed to doing small things. Maybe it’s time to set a big, scary goal and see what you can really accomplish.

This fall, I ran three half marathons in less than a month. Why did I do this? Signing up for all of them seemed like a good idea at the time. But I really dislike this distance and always find myself wondering why I didn’t just sign up for the 5K.

I love running as hard as I can and seeing if I can really hang on to that pace for just over three miles. It seems like such a short distance, but when you feel like you could keel over or throw up at any moment, it’s not that short after all.

So back to the beginning when I talked about goals.

This year, I ran a 5K in 24:38. I’ve been chipping away at the 5K time, every year running a few races, and generally taking 15-30 seconds off of my time from the previous race. Based on my history, I should set a goal to run my next 5K in just about 24 minutes. That checks all of the boxes in the SMART acronym. But it’s also a little tame at this point – to just keep setting the goal that I always set.

As I think back on all of the goals I’ve set in my life, I don’t know that I’ve ever set one I didn’t think I would crush. I put the biggest emphasis on the “A” in SMART because I don’t want to get to a point where I have to face the fact that I tried and failed.

This time around, I’m throwing that out the window. I’m setting a huge goal that may not pass the “SMART” test.

I want to run a 5K in under 20 minutes in 2020.

Based on my current fitness, that is insane. The 5K I ran this year was at a 7:55/mile pace. To hit this goal I need to run a 6:26/mile pace. I know I can run that fast, but I have no idea for how long. I think I could hang on for about a mile, so the idea of running a whole 5K that fast is a little terrifying.

And that’s how I know I want to go for it.

I’m a certified running coach, which means two things.

First, I can build myself a killer training plan in support of a big goal. Second, I’m terrible at taking my own advice so while the coach in me says to set an attainable goal and adjust for the next time around, the go-getter in me is not interested in doing that again.

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