Today, around 40,000 people took part in the 37th edition of the Paris Marathon. A few months ago I thought that I would be one of them, but an unfortunate combination of injury and illness meant that I had to reset my goals for the year and withdraw from the race. I did go for a run this morning (8 miles if anyone’s interested!) but it wasn’t quite the same in wintery Scotland and the fact that I also found myself inadvertently keeping up with all the news from Paris via various social media outlets over the weekend did tug at my heartstrings somewhat, leading me to give consideration to the importance of goals and how to cope when those goals can’t be met.
Like many big races, entries for the Paris Marathon opened months ahead of race day – October to be precise. At the time, I was struggling with an ongoing injury but believed I would be able to begin my marathon training programme at the beginning of January. And so my goal was set: a spring marathon in my favourite city. But as the autumn leaves began to fall and winter took hold, it became increasingly clear that this was not to be the case and I took the difficult and disappointing decision not to pursue my dream of returning to Paris for the marathon this year. Yes, I allowed myself a day of wallowing in self-pity at not being able to go to Paris, but as I see it when our dreams and goals move out of reach we have two options – give up and wallow in self-pity forevermore or pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and come up with a new goal. Life’s too short for self-pity and dwelling on what should/could have been, so it was time for Plan B – take some time out to deal with the root of the injury properly, get back to basics to rebuild my running and aim for a marathon PB in the spring of 2014. In other words, focus on what CAN be in the future rather than what COULD have been today.
You see, having goals is important. Goals motivate us; goals give us something to strive for and a way to track our progress; goals empower us and help us to remain positive. I’m never happier than when I have a training programme all mapped out with a goal race at the end as I know what I’m aiming for and I know the purpose of every run or training session. The goal of running the 2013 Paris Marathon may not have been achievable for The Running Princess at this time, but if I want it to be a possibility for Future Running Princess, then I need to make sure I run sensibly this year, get some consistency and build a solid base to help my body better cope with marathon training next year.
Yet how we go about setting our goals is also important. Leadership and professional development gurus are always recommending that goals should be SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time specific). Perhaps not everybody buys into the idea, but when it comes to running I find that it certainly makes sense. It would be no use, for example, to say, “I’m going to run a marathon again some day,” as it would give me nothing concrete to aim for. Without a concrete goal, how would I be able to measure my progress or know when it was going to happen? What would motivate me to train? Similarly, saying,” I’m going to run a marathon next week,” would be no good as with the training I’ve done to date it would be unrealistic and (probably) unachievable. Even with success, the toll taken on my body would mean weeks of lost training, leading to inconsistency. No, the need for a SMART goal is clear.
My goal is SMART because I know SPECIFICALLY what I’m going to do (I’ve already tackled the injury problem, have worked on my form and am consistently rebuilding my mileage from scratch). I can MEASURE my progress by seeing my mileage and pace improve. I know I can ACHIEVE a marathon goal as I’ve completed 4 marathons in previous years and the fact that I’ve given myself this year to prepare certainly makes it REALISTIC.
My goal is also TIME specific, but it’s worth pointing out that it’s a long term goal. While this is fine, having short term goals is also important in terms of motivation – ticking off one goal helps us to move forward as it helps us to see the progress we’ve made and provides inspiration to set the next goal and continue. With this is mind, I have built some short term goals into my plans to help me focus and measure my progress. Since a spring marathon was out of the question, I entered the Glasgow Women’s 10K in May to give me that big city race buzz I enjoy so much. Plans are also afoot to enter a team in the Hairy Haggis Relay at the Edinburgh Marathon a couple of weeks later – the marathon experience without having to run the full marathon distance!
Most runners like to have a spring goal and an autumn goal to aim for, so this weekend I entered a couple of autumn races to keep me focussed throughout the summer. First up, the River Ness 10K. This is part of the Baxter’s Loch Ness Marathon and Festival of Running. Steve had already entered the marathon, so to avoid the temptation of joining him and putting my longer term goal in jeopardy, I made sure I entered this race which will take place at roughly the same time and finish in the same place so I’ll be able to support Steve as well (plus it will occupy me while he’s running the marathon!). Secondly, I entered the Aviemore Half Marathon in October. This is a very special race for me as it was my first half marathon in 2009 and Steve and I got engaged there. I also ran a PB at this race in 2012. Definitely good motivation!
And so my goals are set. They may not be the goals I originally intended for the year, but they are the right goals for where I am just now. Those 8 wintery miles I ran today may just have been the first 8 miles on the road to my next marathon, perhaps even Paris 2014…