Characteristics of Good, Challenging Goals

Scott Ellis on his way to completing 23 consecutive months of riding to Estes Park.

The winters in Colorado can be cold and snowy, some years are worse than others.

In late 2006 we had two big storms that blanketed the Front Range. The first storm closed Denver International Airport for days right before the Christmas holiday, leaving travelers stranded and local cyclists stuck on indoor trainers between bouts of snow shoveling.

However, not all cyclists were riding indoors. There were goals to be met. Getting a long ride accomplished between two blizzards would be challenging, but not impossible.

For a small group of cyclists, a goal bike ride from Loveland to Estes Park must be completed at least once a month—year round. Loveland sits at the foot of the Rocky Mountains, at an official altitude of 4,982 feet. About 32 miles west, at 7,522 feet, is the mountain town of Estes Park.

Estes is the eastern gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park. The gentle climb from Loveland to Estes is a favorite summer ride for many local cyclists. In winter, the ride through the shaded canyon becomes much more challenging.

This accidental goal began in January of 2005. A winter storm had blanketed the state, but the major roads were open. The road between Loveland and Estes did have some snow, ice and sand on it—but it was possible to make the ascent trip on a mountain bike.

The downhill ride from Estes back to Loveland would have been dangerous due to descending in very cold temperatures and the black ice that lurks in shady sections of the canyon, so two of us set out to ride one-way to Estes with my husband, Delbert, volunteering for sag duty.

Todd Singiser and I made it to Estes that January and celebrated at the Notchtop Caf with a warm lunch. In February, Scott Ellis and Todd made the trip to Estes. In March, April and May the three of us found a way to ride to Estes Park, and in most months we made the return trip to Loveland as well.

I believe it was in May that Todd made an off-hand comment that he had been to Estes Park each month of the calendar year. If he could ride to Estes each remaining month of 2005, he would accomplish 12 consecutive months. The challenge began.

This "Ride to Estes Challenge" has the five elements of good goal. Let's look at those elements using Todd's Estes Challenge as the example:

Good Elements of Goal Setting

1. State goals in positive terms: Explain what you want to achieve, as opposed to what you don't want to happen.

Good: Ride to Estes Park 12 consecutive months.
Not as good: Don't miss one month of riding to Estes Park.

2. Goals need to be challenging: The goals should be challenging enough, so you aren't 100 percent certain you can achieve them.

Good: To juggle personal schedules to coincide with the weather in order to ride to Estes Park once per month is a real challenge. In some cases, the ride happens on the last day of the month. Depending on wind, bicycle choice and road conditions, the one-way trip to Estes takes between 2:15 and 3:00. The round trip time is 3:45 to 4:30.
Not as good: Todd is an experienced rider. A goal that is not as challenging, and more importantly not as interesting, is to ride 2:00 once per month, on any route.

3. Goals need to be achievable: If your goals are so challenging, they become impossible, you will easily be discouraged. Goals need to be within reach.

Good: The goal of riding to Estes is possible.
Not as good: A round trip goal would be too discouraging. A goal of riding the round trip each month of the year is possible in some years and downright dangerous in other years.

4. Goals need to be under your control: Your goals should be based on your performance—and thus within your control—not someone else's performance. This feature does get tricky when you are aiming for a podium spot, because podium placement does rely on other people's performance; but let's consider goals outside of podium places.

Good: The goal of riding to Estes is completely within Todd's reach, as well as any other rider that wants to give it a shot.
Not as good: "Ride to Estes 12 consecutive months with six other people." Trying to coordinate the personal schedules of six people one day per month, all year long takes the accomplishment of the goal out of Todd's hands. His success would depend on other people's commitment level, health and personal schedules.

5. Make your goals specific and measurable: Avoid stating goals in vague terms. State goals so that someone else could watch you and know you accomplished your goal.

Good: The goal of riding to Estes is visible, specific and measurable.
Not as good: A goal of "Get a long ride in once each month" is too vague and the measurement of "long" is not defined.

Todd's Estes Park Challenge was adopted by six other riders in 2006, and I suspect more will join the challenge in 2007. The challenge serves multiple purposes. It is a test of perseverance, the distance helps maintain long ride time for foundation fitness and it's just fun to say you accomplished the challenge.

No matter where you live, there is at least one ride that would be a challenge to accomplish once per month for 12 consecutive months. If the once-per-month ride doesn't suit you, perhaps you can scheme up another 2007 challenge. There are only a few more days left in January to ride, so you best get going soon.


Gale Bernhardt was the 2003 USA Triathlon Pan American Games and 2004 USA Triathlon Olympic coach for both the men's and women's teams. Her first Olympic experience was as a personal cycling coach at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games. Thousands of athletes have had successful training and racing experiences using Gale's pre-built, easy-to-follow training plans. For more information, click here. Let Gale and Active Trainer help you succeed.

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