How to Set Appropriate Goals
I recently finished David Martin and Peter Coe’s “Better Training for Distance Runners” (1997). Among the many very specific methods they put at a runners disposal in this tome of knowledge is a chapter on how to set appropriate goals.
In business I’ve learned that goals must be SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-based ), but as a runner you need a ways to assist you in being specific. After all the numbers we are trying to hit are made through the hard labour and application of our own bodies.
For myself, there is one all-encompassing goal: the sub-33 minute 10k that may give me entrance to run in the hills for Denmark at the Europeans and the Worlds. My pursuit of this ambition is currently complicated by two factors:
1. I’ve never run a 10k on the roads!
2. I don’t have a realistic measure of how long it should take to get there and when it will be “to late” to get there
Now before I go on there is a few things to consider about the 33-minute goal (you should evaluate your goals likewise). Let’s try the SMART method:
· Specific: 33 minutes is as specific as you get
· Measurable: You bet
· Achievable: I think yes, let’s look at realistic below
· Realistic: The big one, let me comment on that below
· Time-based: This means there is a set time-frame for “completion”. I have set 5 years as we shall see below. The more time the easier to achieve, but don’t procrastinate
On the topic of realism it’s easy to gauge if your target is unreachable for anyone but a world class athlete by looking at how the world’s elite perform. Luckily, 33-minutes are actually not that lofty a target. You certainly need some running genes and some clever training to get to 33-minutes but this pace does not remain the domain of a select elite.
Question is, how much would I need to improve every year to get there within a reasonable time-frame?
Enter Martin and Coe
Martin and Coe offer a very user-friendly prediction system. Firstly, you must decide on an age when you’d like to achieve your time. I have set myself a 5-year time-frame before I believe it would be prudent to move on to other ambitions least I live a pipe-dream. I am 29; this means I must achieve 33-minutes by the age of 34 which gives me:
Present Age: 29
Target Age: 34
Difference = 5
As improvements are harder to get by and, indeed, slow down the longer you train, I will see most improvement in year 1, less in year 2, even less in year 3 and so on. To come up with the maths, Martin and Coe, ask you to start with a factor equal to the total number of years you have to gain your improvement. In my case “5”, in year two this factor drops to “4”, in year three to “3” all the way down to “1” in the fifth and final year.
If I add these figures together (5+4+3+2+1) I get 15. So in the first year I must get 5/15th (33%) of my total improvement, in year 2 I must gain 4/15th (27%) down until 1/15th in year five (7%). To find out how much you must improve within any given year, you simply multiply this factor with your total time.
Now, if you know your best time over the distance you aspire to set new heights on, you simply choose your PB and subtract your target time from that. For instance, if you want to reach 16-minutes for 5k, and your current PB is 18-minutes, the difference is 2 minutes.
I have no PB!
If you are a hill runner like me and somehow ended up without any target time for a 10k, the only choice left open to you is estimate based on other performances on shorter or longer distances.
Personally, I see signs that I possess a lot of natural endurance, so I am more interested in getting a realistic gauge of what speed I can hope to run at. 33-minute 10k pace is 3:18min/km pace. I have rarely been measured on a flat track, but just a week ago I ran a kilometre in 3:22min/km, so I know the physical capability to run at a similar speed is already present in my legs (I was not sprinting at any stage during this, so this reflects steady pace not a quick injection of speed somewhere during the 1000m).
I also know that I am not currently anywhere near as fit as I was in last season; this all helps make the goal more achievable. To gauge my current prediction for a 10k, I will therefore use my recent 3000m time in Rathdrum as a measure.
In Matt Fitzgerald’s system my pace of 3:29 for the 3000m is equivalent to a Target Pace Level of 24. Someone running at TPL would have a 10k pace of 3:45 which works out at 37:30 for the 10k. Since my stamina is somewhat reduced at the moment, I cannot walk out the door and hit this target, but for my calculations I will assume that I will reach this target during the National 10ks on 26th of April.
So as a little bonus of these calculations I now have a firm target for my first 10k race in April. I will be able to correct this further based on the Fit4Life 5k result I achieve in Ashford next Sunday.
Back to the Predictions
So, I want to run 33:00 for the 10k. My current best prediction is 37:30: A differential of 4:30.
If I multiply 4:30 by a factor of 5/15 (I have an Excel Calculator that does all this, feel free to mail me if you need it) I get an improvement of 1:30 needed in Year One. This means during the next 12 months I must lower my 10k time from 37:30 to 36:00. Just lucky for me there is a few good 10ks in August where I can check the status.
In Year Two, I must multiply by a factor of 4/15 and so on. This works out like this:
· Year 1: 36:00 (1:30 improvement)
· Year 2: 34:48 (1:12 improvement)
· Year 3: 33:54 (00:54 improvement)
· Year 4: 33:18 (00:36 improvement)
· Year 5: 33:00 (00:18 improvement)
Voila! Now isn’t this beautiful, instead of guess-work, you can estimate very precisely your yearly improvements needed.
So what happens if you are ahead of target? I will quote Martin and Coe (1997) on this:
“Our opinion is quite clear. Additional progress should not necessarily be sought that year, or even the next. The athlete is on schedule. However, if several races during the year are each consistently ahead of the planned program, this is grounds for carful reconsideration. As we shall detail in the specifics of training, goals are best achieved by doing the least amount of work necessary, not the most, because the goal is freedom from injury as well as continued improvement over the next several years. The greedier athletes become, the sooner they are spent.”
Martin and Coe, unfortunately don’t provide any guidelines on what to do if you are behind schedule, but in the first year the corrective action is quite clear: Just change the start time you are basing your predictions on. If I go out and run the 10k in April in 39:30, for example, I will use that as my start line instead of 39:30; this would give me a jump of 6:30 to work on not 4:30, which would work out like this:
· Year 1: 37:20 (02:10 improvement)
· Year 2: 35:36 (01:44 improvement)
· Year 3: 34:18 (01:18 improvement)
· Year 4: 33:26 (00:52 improvement)
· Year 5: 33:00 (00:26 improvement)
As you can see the above looks slightly harder but still no yearly target seems unreasonable compared to the previous years over a 10k distance. If you consistently fail to hit your targets, I will advise that you look at:
1. Time out injured
2. How serious have you been about your training
3. Have you trained properly (if not consult someone who are experts on the distance you prepare for)
4. Have you overtrained before your target races? Were you burned out?
5. Is your goal maybe not as realistic as you thought? Go back and have a second look.
So with this knowledge in hand, I hope some of you out there will use this method to allow you to chase your PBs with better accuracy. I will certainly keep up my fanatical chase for the 33:00 minute 10k. What happens if I hit it? Well, you’d have to be pretty silly not to try and go for 29:59, but that’s the stuff of dreams and a discussion to have in 5-years time when the lay of the land is better known.