Or, a goal can push you to do too much, too soon—especially when you are faced with a setback. At this point, a goal can either become overwhelming or a source of the wrong kind of motivation, such as the desire to make up for lost time, to train beyond your current abilities, or to cut corners on necessary recovery time.
Thus, at a minimum, an astute runner needs to develop the skill of having some flexibility in his or her goals. At the extreme edge of the spectrum, one could even consider running without goals. Obviously, it would take quite a bit of intrinsic motivation and a strong sense of self to pull this off, assuming the individual still has the implicit goal of improving as a runner or a person.
But perhaps every once in a while it would be best to forget about your goals for a season and ground yourself by finding your purpose in running once again, and using it to motivate your training.
How I Redefined My Running Goals and Purpose
One of my running goals for this season has been to be able to train consistently. A second was to set a new PR at a distance shorter than the marathon, originally breaking 60 minutes in a 10-miler. Family constraints caused me to shift the second goal to instead focus on breaking 1:20 in a half marathon. I'd finally set a race-specific training plan for the eight weeks prior to the event, and had ramped mileage up to around 60 miles a week.
Then some calf pain started to return, and the motivation started to lag. The weather took a turn for the worse. More family constraints came into play, making the plan a bit more difficult to follow. As most runners would, I initially felt some stress about having to miss tempo runs and intervals and cut the mileage.
And then I stepped back and reconsidered why I run in the first place. Every time I've walked away, the motivation to come back has been to get healthy, feel energetic, and know that I am doing what I can to be there for my children and wife when they need me, even if it's 40 or more years from now.
Yes, I have my longer-term goals, like becoming and remaining one of the leading Masters runners in the region. And my short-term goals were designed to feed that goal—specifically to round out my perpetual marathon training with something more speed-focused.
But meeting that goal has nothing to do with specific performance at a race. So while I'd still like to put in a solid half marathon, it's time to refocus on the bigger picture. The very idea of pushing to the limit on a regular basis doesn't necessarily jive with pursuing healthy choices (as some controversial research would tend to support). There is only so much sleep one can sacrifice, and sitting on the couch due to injury (but still getting up early to do what strength training is possible, like in past years) doesn't constitute "good health" either.
As a coach, I'm obviously committed to helping clients reach their goals. But even then, I try to encourage open discussion of these goals and a broadening of them where possible, with the primary focus being on making measurable gains over the course of a season.
There's something to be said about being at least a little less tied to goals, so long as one can remain focused on his or her purpose. Who knows—letting go of your goals for a while may actually help you better achieve them.
This article first appeared on Predawn Runner.race.