Setting Goals for Championship Meets

Setting Goals for Championship Meets

It's that time of the season when your coach is pulling back on the reins of your training. You've been running less on a day-to-day basis, but probably running much shorter (albeit much faster) workouts. You're maybe starting to feel a little itchy, like maybe you ought to run just a little bit more. And you're maybe thinking:One more interval, one more run, I just have to make sure my legs still work. Resist.

Your fitness now is built, and all you have to do is keep it sharp.

Of course, it can be hard to keep calm when you know that the next few weeks bring the opportunities you've been working for all season.

It can help to check in on your goals for this very special and specific time. You want to make sure your goals are both challenging and realistic - based on bringing together all the work you've already done. This takes some nuanced thinking about where your fitness is at right now, how your previous races have gone, and what you want out of the season.

Let's look through some ways to lay groundwork for your individual race plan right now, and then you can take what you've got to your coach and your team to contribute to the conversations you're having there about team performance goals.

  1. What's your fitness really like right now?

You might have a good idea based on a race you ran this season where both a) things went well and b) you finished with nothing left - you gave everything you had. In that case, you have a read on what your body can do, and you can start constructing a race plan for running even faster.

It's also possible that your race times don't reflect your current fitness, so reflect back on workouts. Let's say you can consistently run 5:40 pace for three 1mile-repeats with no more than 3 minutes rest between them, but you have never run 18:15 for 5k. Well, you're fit to race 18:15, so the starting point from which you want to construct your race plan, is taking the data you have on your fitness to make a race strategy specific enough bring you all the way to the very edge of your fitness.

2. What'syouradvantage?

Can you pick people off like a bear at a blueberry bush, working from the middle of the pack to reel in all those folks who went out a wee bit too fast? Are you a silent killer on the hills, applying force where everyone else is hurting? Have you paid attention to your fast twitch muscle fibers like a 400m runner?

Every athlete has - and has developed - their own advantage over the competition. You want a race plan that plays to your strengths. This means thinking through much more than just hoped-for splits. You want to think about positioning from the gun, and tactical moves that you will plan on making at key points in the course. What kinds of moves and what kinds of positioning are going to allow you to get the most out of your strengths.

3.What are you committed to?

What are you willing to sacrifice and hurt for? To be the best in the state? To run faster than you've ever run before? Maybe you read my manifesto forless talk about time goals, but less, of course, doesn't mean none. In making a realistic race plan, you're taking what you've found about your fitness through the season and turning it into a specific strategy for a specific course on a specific day. Time goals are goals for training cycles, which form the bases of race plans, but times alone are not enough to get you through the pain you're going to feel at some point during the race if you're pushing yourself to your limits.

It also means thinking about big picture impact - your commitments. When Meb Keflezighi set a goal in 2001 to run faster than 27:20.56 for 10km, he was setting a goal to be the fastest American - past or present - at that distance. This means he would need to run 25 65-second 400s. That had to hurt. Running 65 seconds for each of 25 laps was what he trained to be able to do (over many years and many training cycles!) But his commitment wasn't to a time on a watch; it was to representing the highest level of performance his country could produce at the 10k distance. So what are your commitments? Do you want to be fully present for your teammates? Do you want to show your section and your state what your school has got? Do you want to show yourself how strong you can be? Remind yourself of your commitments, because that's what's going to get you through the pain. (Just ask your mom about childbirth.)

Commitments are always risks. You don't know how things are going to turn out. But you will learn something in the process.

With these elements in mind, you're ready to work with your coach or with a trusted supporter on a race plan. Remembering that your race plan is specific to the course and race you're going to be running and the training you did to get there, remember also that your race plan includes all the little things that get you ready for race day. Hydration, good nutrition, adequate sleep (meaning plenty of rest in the weeks before so that night-before jitters are no big deal). These are what make your race plan possible. You are going to learn a lot about yourself in the next few weeks, and all that you learn is what's going to propel you forward.

Want to talk more aboutyour race plan? Reach

Margaret Smith, Ph.D. works with individual athletes and teams of all sports and all levels from elite youth to professional at The MindSide Sport and Performance Psychology in Birmingham. Before joining The MindSide, she both coached and competed in NCAA Division I Cross Country and Track at ACC and Big 10 schools. Now that she's in SEC country, you can reach this TarHeel born and bred at or on Twitter @DrMargaretAS.