It’s a common used phrase in business and industry as well as in the sporting universe. Goals. Goal-oriented, goal-setting, measurable and attainable goals are all variations of this often over-used word. But what are goals? Well, for me, they are a target. Something to zero in on and establish focus on why you’re doing whatever it is that you’re doing. Sometimes I think we make goals the absolute measuring stick for success or failure. Which isn’t always a bad idea, but one thing I’ve learned since I started running competitively and specifically running marathons is that it’s o.k. to have secondary goals. And not just in running but in other sports or life in general. I mean, seriously, when the NFL season was about to begin last year I heard players and coaches alike on my favorite team, the Oakland Raiders talking about aspirations for winning a championship. Now, I’m not a fool and I would like to think that the players, coaches and front office staff aren’t fools either (although some of my friends would disagree with me), but I’m guessing they all felt like a .500 season was a more reasonable expectation. As a competitive athlete, I get it. Nobody wants to admit their shortfalls and nobody wants to sell themselves short. But there is something about setting a realistic goal and then working hard to out-do that goal. Sometimes, even a realistic goal is not attainable, but that doesn’t stop you from aiming high. But doing so realistically.
I’ll give you an example. When I went to run the Flying Pig Marathonin Cincinnati in 2007 I went with the intention of qualifying for the Boston Marathon which would have required me to run a 3:15:59 or less. But in the weeks leading up to the race I developed some powerful hip pain that ended up being Piriformis Tendonitisso I tempered my expectations. I went to Cincinnati and even started the race with the expectation of qualifying for Boston. I held on for twenty-one miles before the weather became an issue and I became severely dehydrated. In the last four miles I knew I wouldn’t qualify for Boston so I went to my back-up goal of a sub-3:30. There was no shame in finishing in 3:26:08. I was disappointed for sure, but only after I came home and reviewed all that I had been through did I realize that despite not reaching the stated goal, I had a successful race in Cincinnati. And perhaps the most important thing was the fact that I didn’t use the secondary goal as an excuse when things went wrong and it got difficult. For me that is the most important thing. A secondary goal; or a back-up plan, is fine as long as it isn’t used as a crutch.
The other thing about goals is that they can and should be adjusted right up until the very end if needed. Not only did I do that in Cincinnati, but I did it while on the streets of other marathons I have run. It’s a constant process of interpreting information and making reasonable adjustments. Think about this for a moment. You set a goal. Let’s say you want to run a 5k. So you work hard and train and get yourself ready and you fulfill your mission and run a 5k. It turns out that it was easier than you anticipated because of your hard work and preparation. For some people that might be fine and they’ll never run another race. But I’m thinking that for most of us, doing exceptionally well might end up motivating us to say, “hey, maybe I can run a 10k.” On the flip side, you might set a goal of running a marathon, like I did in 2005. But for whatever reason (in my case it was a knee issue), you are unable to complete what you started. That is exactly what happened to me. I over-trained and injured myself and had to back out of the 2005 Buffalo Marathon. I was disappointed but I learned from my mistakes and continued to run shorter distances. Within a year I had worked out what I needed to work out, used the knowledge I gained in the process, and inevitably went on to run the Cleveland Marathon plus 8 more marathons since.
So why am I talking about goals today? Because once again on my short run for the week, a 2-miler, I ran it extremely fast despite being extremely tired (thanks Night Guy). So fast that when I finish and see my pace it makes me think that Boston qualifying is a real possibility. But then I realize it’s only two miles, and realistically I should shoot for something more obtainable, like a sub-3:45 or sub-3:30 depending on how training goes. I’m not where I was four years ago, but I’m getting there. So for now, my stated goal is a sub-4:00 marathon, which is ironic because that was the goal I had going to Cleveland. Actually, it was the secondary goal. When I began training I just wanted what every marathon first-timer wanted. To finish. When all was said and done, I reached my goal, even though I hadn’t reached my goal. Did it matter? You be the judge.