Reach Your Goal on Your Own Terms

We walkers love our race goals. Not too long ago, as I walked the last few hundred meters of the Marathon du Medoc in Bordeaux, France, my mind was busy setting a future goal. Even before I had reached the end of the swag after the finish line (a bottle of fine Bordeaux wine, a gym bag, and a medal), I had decided to return to walk the event using every minute available of the course time limit. I wanted to take time to stop at every one of the 22 wine tasting stations along the route.

It was an unorthodox goal—to try to be slower, but I have learned over the past years as a power walking coach that it is helpful to define goals in different ways than crossing a finish line as quickly as possible. Now, I know I can't walk that marathon again for a few years, but it is long-term goal and one of several that keep me walking every day.

The goal is the thing—the thing that gives us a reason to get up every morning in a good mood and with purpose. As a power walking coach, I encourage clients to always have a race booked. This commitment forces us to set the routine for achievement. We book a marathon eight months away and then we paste a weekly training schedule on our fridge or above our desk. Commitment to the race gets us to walk in the early hours of the morning to train, to walk after work, to meet friends for endurance walks, to eat well, and to rest.

But signing up for races does not have to be the only goal for passionate walkers. I have clients who do not honestly enjoy the race experience or they need a break from competitive races. Maybe you can relate to that feeling. You've set yourself a big marathon goal. You've finished it and you are feeling adrift.

There are plenty of creative ways to set a walking goal that do not have to be race oriented. What about deciding that you are going to walk every street in your town in six months? Walk to a new coffee shop each week for two months. A few of those shops may be in a neighboring town and you need to get a friend to meet you there for a latte and a drive home. What about imagining a six month walk to a distant place? Count how many miles it is from your house to Paris. Break that mileage into weekly and daily mileage and head to London. You are walking there in your imagination so you can cross the Atlantic Ocean on two feet.

Another idea is to find a 5K or five mile route in your neighborhood. Walk it at a good pace and time it. Write down the time and commit to improving that time over the next six weeks. You'll need to walk four times per week and do at least 20 minutes of interval training on one of those days. If you haven't improved your time in the six weeks, analyze what could be done to improve your time. It might be not eating as much before you go for a walk or eating oatmeal for breakfast instead of a muffin. Walking lunges every other day might be the strength workout your glutes need to get you faster. The key is to realize that your goal is realistic—you can become faster and you can try a new and specific approach to achieve it.

It doesn't matter what your walking goal is—you must have at least one. It doesn't have to be some Herculean goal. You don't have to keep going farther and farther. You don't have to be the first human to break the speed of sound on two feet. Your goal can be to walk with your significant other on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays for five weeks for 30 minutes. It helps if the goal is fun. It really helps if the goal is realistic.

Never forget that the goal gives meaning to our lives only when we actively work on its achievement. The goal needs a plan. That plan introduces routine into our lives. We thrive on routine as much as we thrive on setting goals. The routine is the journey that, in the end, leaves us with some of our most lasting memories.

The routine of the weekend long training walks and the analysis over coffee with training buddies are going to remain stronger memories than your few seconds at any finish line. Whatever your goal, you can thank it for giving you memories of sunrises in the middle of winter, the diamond coating of ice on bare branches, the high five from a stranger, and the laughs you share with walking friends.

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Lee Scott, B.A.Sc., M.A, developed the WoW Power Walking? program and the Simple Secrets for a Great Walking Workout DVD-CD. She has coached thousands of walkers for fitness and marathons. Scott has been a featured expert at conferences and race expos, in magazines and on television across North America. She has power walked more than 60 distance events including 14 full marathons.

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