Each year at the Reebok/ZAP Fitness Center begins the same way for resident athletes: We reflect on the year concluded, and then turn our attention to the coming year and beyond. On paper, we outline outcome goals, or performance goals, replete with PRs to target, places for national championships and team-based goals, including road championships and club cross country. The path to accomplish these performance goals is laden with a type of goal many have never considered: process goals.
Process goals, introduced to our group by Dr. Robert Swoap of Warren Wilson College in Asheville, North Carolina, are unlike outcome goals because we have 100 percent control over them. For example, if an athlete has a goal of running a personal best time in the 5K this year, he or she will need to first and foremost stay healthy to complete the required training necessary for this PR.
How does an athlete stay healthy? How about a process goal of running at least half of all weekly volume on non-paved surfaces? That is a process goal that can be controlled.
"Sleep a minimum of nine hours each night," is another process goal commonly put forth by the athletes here at ZAP or, "Ice legs daily after training runs." In a nutshell, process goals (or action goals) are unequivocally within our power, making the outcome goals we all set much more likely to happen.
Once you have your goals—both outcome and process—in place, the next order of business, and one that far too many athletes fail to address, is a detailed plan of attack with specific training phases and planned races for the coming year. Add this type of road map to your end-of-year goals you will see success along the way.
What might a year-long plan look like for a couple of athletes with wide-ranging goals? We'll use an example of one of the athletes I coach. "Jon" is a 42-year-old who had a year-end goal of running a sub-3:00 marathon for the first time (his personal best prior to 2011 was 3:09:37 in 2009). Entering 2011 in complete health, we targeted a year to accomplish this goal. This timeframe would allow him to see success throughout the year while minimizing the risk of injury. Here's a glimpse of how we set process goals to achieve his outcome goal.
January Through April (first 14 to 16 weeks of the year)
We slowly built mileage from an average of 42.5 miles per week in 2010 to a goal of high 40s to low 50s per week on average in 2011.
Our plan included keeping 5 to 6 days per week during this "build-up" phase under 75 to 80 percent effort (based on Jon's maximum heart rate).
Jon ran one to two moderate fartleks on the alternate days, or moderate sub-threshold efforts to keep intensity in play. Fartlek sessions during this build-up period were all effort-based and controlled, typically workouts such as 1:00 – 2:00 – 3:00 – 4:00 – 4:00 – 3:00 – 2:00 – 1:00 ladder fartleks with 2:00 easy jog between each pick-up or a simple 7- to 8-mile run once per week where we began the final 5 miles moving slowly forward, finishing at roughly goal marathon pace for the final 2 to 3 miles.
It was important for us to maintain Jon's economy; we did so by adding accelerations (8 to 10 x 120 meters) after two runs each week.
There was little to no racing during this period.