How to Set Multiple Race Goals

How to Set Multiple Race Goals

Today's #TheWerk post is brought to you by Mwangi Gitahi (@CoachMwangi). Mwangi, originally from the Kenyan Highlands, is a long-time runner and USATF coach who resides in New Bedford, MA. 


The Boston Marathon is this coming Monday! It’s a time of year which marks a shift in running intensity, both for me and for my athletes. It’s kind of like an unofficial change in season, a period when we round out our winter base-building and move into another phase of our training. It’s also a weekend full of inspiration, with races spanning the mile and 5K on Saturday, to the full marathon on Monday. In all this excitement, I find myself reflecting on the importance of setting multiple race goals, to ensure success no matter how the race, or weather conditions, play out.

You may remember that, a little while ago I wrote about the importance of Setting SMART Running Goals. As we set these goals with months or weeks to go, it’s important to constantly ask ourselves how our running has been lately (point #1 in the article) and then be completely honest with ourselves about our progress. The same can be said for the days leading up to a race. Sometimes I get so fixated on a particular race goal that I ignore any signs that may indicate there could be another outcome. I believe psychologists call this confirmation bias. The tendency to focus only on the information that supports a belief (or goal) and ignore or reject any information that opposes it. This can easily sabotage a race! When I ask myself how my running has been going lately with an open and honest mind, I can usually zero in on a few key indicators, then adjust my race goal appropriately to reflect the reality of my situation. This often saves me from the disappointment of not running “a good race.”

Here are a few of the questions I ask myself:

What’s been the quality of my workouts?

Have I been able to hit my workout targets consistently and have they felt appropriately hard/comfortable? Workouts (speed work, tempo runs, progression runs, fartleks, etc) are usually the best indicators of my fitness level, although they alone don’t tell the full story.

How has my recovery been?

How much recovery time have I given myself in between workouts, and has it been quality recovery? Not all recovery is good recovery. There are a few ways I determine if I’m getting the recovery I need - the way my body feels when I stretch and foam roll, the way subsequent workouts feels, the amount of sleep I notice myself getting per night - these can all be great indicators and can help improve the quality of my running. 

How have I dealt with mental fatigue?

Believe it or not, mental stress can be just as draining as physical stress, but it may not be as easy to identify. It’s important for me to take stock of how much mental fatigue I have been going through, and how I believe it has affected my energy level and the quality of my running.

Have I been dealing with any injuries?

As runners we’re always dealing with niggles here and there, but the real concern should be if anything is getting worse, or if anything is serious enough to require a reduction in training volume or intensity. If this happens it can, and should, influence my ultimate race goal.

What do my legs feel like the day(s) before the race?

Are my legs fatigued and do they develop fatigue quickly when I walk up a flight of stairs? This “stair test” is usually one of my favorite indicators of just how “lactic” my legs still are and therefore what I can realistically expect them to do on race day.

Some of the other factors I consider are the weather forecast, the time of day the race starts (a morning vs an evening race) and even the level of competition I may be facing. In other words, will there be people to push/pull me to a fast time?

Once I’ve gained this insight, it’s time to set some race goals.

The “A” Goal:

This is ambitious but attainable. It’s the goal I’ve been targeting in all of my workouts and it reflects the pinnacle of my training. I think of this as aiming for the moon!

The “B” Goal:

This is slightly more conservative. It’s usually a few seconds slower per mile than my “A” goal and is a cautious goal with a higher chance of success, and also one that I will find personally satisfying. I think of this as landing among the stars. Still a good outcome!

The “C” Goal:

This is a benchmark goal. It's slower than my “B” goal and it usually has the highest chance of success, with the goal to cross the finish line feeling strong. Rather than a breakout race, think of this as more of a baseline for future races. Something to build on!

Setting multiple race goals is an important part of preparing for the unpredictability of distance running, and I believe every race should be approached this way. In my experience, running training should be a fluid and flexible process, designed in a way that can accommodate a few different outcomes, each of them contributing to our growth as runners.

Keep doing #TheWerk and best of luck setting some SMART racing goals this season!

Coach Mwangi 

Run better. Run smarter. Run for life.

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