Monday, May 19, 2008

Setting Race Goals: A Primer

We’ve all seen the obligatory post wherein the subsequent racer proclaims their Official Race Goals a few days or weeks before race day. I’ve even posted them here. Mine are usually hilarious, edifying and inspirational. Yours are a dull statement of intention. Not making a judgment here. We all can’t help being who we are.

Now if - after the insult - you are still here, shame on you. Have some self respect. Immediately storm out of here with a haughty click and return in a few seconds with your dignity dragging behind you like a shadow created from the rising sun. We’ll both feel better about it (although beware that there is still one more insult to go).

I always struggle with how to set my race goals. Do I go ambitious and set PR goals? Do I go wimpy and be happy “just to be out there on a beautiful day” and, maybe, balance my checkbook along the way? Do the words intent to do great bodily harm appear at any point?

Usually, like many, I lay out my goals according to the Proverbs of the Running Gods as dictated to Dick Beardsley on the slopes of Heartbreak Hill : A stretch goal, a realistic goal, and a hey-I’m-just happy-to-be-alive goal. Others, however…well, I don’t know what the hell you are doing (this isn’t the promised insult). I’ve noticed some weird race goals out there and they typically fall into one of these completely made up but sidesplittingly funny categories.

1. The Pie-Eyed Optimist

This person sets extremely ambitious but unattainable goals. Something along the lines of: I’ve never run more than a 10 mile long run but I believe I can finish the Western States Endurance 100. My cousin’s employer’s high school girlfriend’s nephew said he did it on very little training so I think I can too. Once I stop running in wrestling shoes, I’m really gonna fly! You might also find these folks elbowing their way to the front of the local 5k starting pack, only to pull off a ¼ mile into the race with a pride cramp.

2. The Fight or Flighters

These folks set out a two pronged goal. The very reasonable stretch race goal matching their overall ability. Followed by the caveat that if something goes wrong, they are quitting and going home. This goal may read: I hope to finish the 10k in 50 minutes, which would be a new PR! But if the wind is blowing from the southeast, I’m just going to walk home and try again another day.

3. The Bipolar Runner

It’s hard to get a read on these folks. They sound reasonable. Taken individually, the goals seem very realistic. When viewing the overall picture though, something ain’t right. My stretch goal for the half marathon is 1:40. But if it’s just not my day, I’d be happy with a 2:32. What’s with the huge variance? That’s greater than the difference between Paris Hilton’s popularity and actual talent. That’s not hot.

4. Mr. Pragmatic

I’m guilty of this one. (This is not referencing prag again, thank you very much). This person sets a goal exactly matching their last training runs. Well, I ran 3.1 miles yesterday in 21:00 minutes so my goal for this 5k is…21 minutes. I think I can do that. Really? Way to put yourself out there, big fella! This is all very modest and smart but where’s the spice? Aren’t you going to Go For It on race day all carbo loaded and wired with endorphins? Bo-ring.

5. I Like Shiny Things

I can not relate. I was born with an ingrained competitive spirit. Secretly, I admire these folks. They have no goal. They just enjoy the event. There’s no teasing here. I think that’s great. I just get real confused trying to process No Goal as a race goal. I look at these folks with these race goals like a dog who is being explained quantum physics - all head-tilted and not understanding (with one cute little floppy ear. At least, that’s how I picture myself if I were a dog.)

When approaching a race, you generally have an idea if you are in PR shape or not. For me, I flex for awhile in front of the mirror. If my normally toned triceps, biceps, and quads look EXTRA toned, well, let’s go ahead and set an ambitious goal. I might double check my Concavator for PR indicating cheek hollowing as well. If my hair, er, training was a little off, it might be an indication to pull back a bit on the goals.

However, either way, you need to account for the Race Day adrenaline release that’ll put a little hop in your step. I subtract a bit of time anticipating this. There’s no way you are going to only run at your training pace – even a hard training pace – on race day. You will be faster. Unless, of course, you Like Shiny Things and are curiously devoid of a competitive spirit.

Since most of you lack top end mathematical skills (there, there it is, the expected insult but it’s too late to leave now. You’re almost done. You and your humiliation can stick around for a bit longer and finish up), I’ll go ahead and spell this out. This is straight from F.M.S. research labs:

Race Goal = (What you think you will be able to do on race day) * .975

So, for a 5k, you think you can run it in 20 minutes.

Race Goal = (20 minutes) * .975 which equals 19:30 minutes.

You may use this from now one and immediately throw out the antiquated McMillan’s running calculator. Mine is clearly better. More science-y.

Happy trails.

An adjustment is needed to my official Summer of Speed goals as my weekend long runs are indicating the 10 mile goal of 1:10:00 is already in jeopardy. I hereby adjust the 10 mile goal to 1:06:00.


8.0 miles
54:13 time
6:47 pace


B. Kramer said...

I'm more of the pick-an-arbitrary-time-that-sounds-good-and-be -pissed-off-when-I-don't-beat-it-even-if-I-PR goal setter. But thanks for trying to squeeze me into a stereotype.

C said...

In the beginning, I wanted to believe I was #5. Baloney. I'm #4--boring and I love it.

However, for my next race I will use the FMS calculator to set my goal time and if I fail to reach it, I'm blaming it all on you. How do you like them apples? :)

Ian said...

Thanks, I'll keep this in mind when I set my goal for my upcoming 10K.

When I set goals I always like to round down to a round number, because it makes it easier when someone asks you what your goal is.

Nancy said...

Very science-y. Extremely. I think maybe I am a schizophrenic goal setter as I have been a few of these in the past.

Mir said...

Great post! But, you forgot about the Multiple Choice: setting an A, B, C, and even D goal. That would be me. :-D

Stuart said...

Nice post, I am very jealous of the hmmm maybe this race I can shave 10 seconds off.

For me it seems to be (a) not die on the side of the trail and be found be lost hikers, (b) finish before everyone has gone home and they have towed my car or (c) under 11 hours!

L*I*S*A said...

I love it when you talk all sciency and stuff.

Using your equation, that will put my Bayshore time at 5:16, which would be a new PR.

Perhaps I should write this on my bib somewhere.

Anonymous said...


Welcome back!!

On Friday your daughter got onto your computer and wrote a painfully unreadable entry on your blog (did you notice it?). I bet little Sally/Meagan/Moonbeam or whatever her name is will be getting the paddle when dad gets home.

Anyways, great entry, however, as mentioned before, you forgot the many multi goal race goal.

1. That I wake up in the morning
2. that I don't crash my car on the way to the race
3. that get to the race on the correct day.
4. that I start the race
5. that I have fun
6. that I look cute running (only women, Nitmos and about 12 other men use this goal)
7. that I finish
8. that I finish in under (2.5x) my expected decent finish time
9. that I finish in under (1.25x) of my expected decent finish time.
10. that I finish at my expected decent finish time.
11. that I finish in under (.975x) my expected decent finish time and i look cute doing it, while my Hello Kitty band aids stay affixed to my manly non-chaffed, non-bleeding teets.

The Laminator said...

Nitmos, you forgot one...what about the people who set 5 random goals and don't tell a soul until they're done...and then celebrate whichever one got that day.

Okay, maybe that's just me. Whew, I'm glad you wrote this AFTER I've already completed my trifecta!

Lily on the Road said...

Well, being bipolar, all about the BLING, pie-eyed optimist who has flight or fligt tendencies on a good day, I think I'll take the Pragmatic approach to my marathon on Sunday.

Unless, of course the race day adrenaline takes over and I have fun while doing it.....LMAO....

Thanks for giving me something to think about during the marathon...LOL....

KimsRunning said...

Very funny Nitmos! I'm probably a mix of 1 and 5.....

By the way....I had never ever run before Oct 26, 2007 and I ran AND finished the Sarasota full marathon March 2, 2008. Took me forever (5:33:38) but I did it even after hearing people tell me I'd never finish it. They're not the boss o' ME! LOL

So....I think I'll do Boston 2009. Whaddya think about that??? LOL

Jess said...

So what does it make you if you alternate between them daily depending on your mood?

Marcy said...

Hmmmmm interesting. I think I'm more of a 4 peep. This way if the race happens to go better than my goal then it's all good. But if it's worse? Doesn't matter because I already know I can run X in X amount of time. Yeah I'm boring, whateva LOL

Kristina said...

Oh, no. I'm all of the above. In the same race. Reminds me to refill my prescription for Haldol.

Viv said...

That is too funny. I love the 1st one. I know peeps like that. I believe I used this Nitmos method for this past weekend. Works everytime to achieve worthy results. Patent that bad boy.

Unknown said...

Nice, I guess I will have to think harder about my goal setting now. I hate being categorized.

Unknown said...

As with a race, I had a 3-tiered approach for how I would respond to your attempt to humor us. My stretch goal was to be ROTFLMAO; my realistic goal was to giggle politely and perhaps read snippets aloud to my hubby; and my "hey-I'm-just-happy to-make-it-through yet-another-post-alive" goal was to snigger and click on to the next blog. Alas, you failed on all accounts. You bore me. Move along.

sRod said...

I actually fall into the category of over-analyzing every single component, horribly underestimating my abilities, and then being completely surprised at the end of the race. It's worked so far.

Anonymous said...

Ive read this twice.
methinks Im thisclose to becoming a runner?


Razz said...

"like a shadow created from the rising sun"

"more scienc-y"

man, this blog has got it all.

AddictedToEndorphins said...

Thank you for you're interesting scienc-y post. I will keep this in mind when I create a ridiculously unobtainable goal for my first marathon.

Reluctant Runner said...

Perfect post.

Like others, I'm probably a multiple personality. Also, I like to pretend I'm a #5 (shiny, shiny race day) but will probably be annoyingly depressed if I exceed the goal I've set for myself by even 30 seconds (shades of #3).

RunToTheFinish said...

I try to pretend like I don't care about my time...but hello there is a reason I only do a few races a year, I get tired of never winning even though I swear I'm running really hard. My goal is usually something I've totally made up on the spur of the moment and generally completely underestimates my potential thus making my actual time rather nice.

Paul said...

Thanks for the HUZZAH on my blog. Remember to save your dip under 19 until later in the year so that you get the 'Shave Your 5K' props!

Michelle said...

Hi, i am definitely the bipolar runner #3! I go all over the place as far as running times and goals, very manic indeed!