Goal setting mid pandemic

I wrote this blog pre Covid, as I readjsuted my own goals for a season. It got great feedback at the time, and as we enter 2021 with spring races uncertain and lots of people looking for fresh motivation to keep doign what they love, it’s time to dust it off.

If you’d like to discuss process goals, goal events that covid cant cancel and training ideas drop me a not to john@mortirolo.run

This is going to be a weird blog post for a running coach. You’re going to need to bear with it, use your endurance to get through it. There might be something here to help you set your next running goals with a little more wisdom and perspective.


I am NOT the Gloucestershire 5K champion (for starters I was only the fastest person from gloucestershire who showed up) Look at the hollow look in my eyes as I consider how bad this selfie will be. I ran a good 5k for me, I got good takeaway on the way home, and found out weeks later that the 9 people who finished ahead of me were from other shires.

As runners, no, as humans, a lot of us can be goal oriented. “If I could just run a sub blah marathon…. “. “I really want to run a sub blurb half….”. “I’m focusing on getting my 10K under flimnywhatsit…..”

Those sentences rarely continue with a “because”. I’m not sure most of us could really say why that next goal matters so much. But it does seem to matter. What exactly is it that makes us clutch a round number that’s a bit better than what we’ve achieved so far and get fixated on beating it?

I’ll spare you the full maths lecture, but please, a number is a number, don’t ascribe meaning to it that it doesn’t deserve. So you want to knock 5 minutes off your PB? What is a minute anyway? 60 seconds. And a second is a fairly random length of time. “Under the International System of Units, the second is currently defined as the duration of 9,192,631,770 periods of the radiation corresponding to the transition between the two hyperfine levels of the ground state of the caesium-133 atom.”

So, you’ll be fulfilled by knocking an arbitrary amount of time off your PB will you? You’ll give all your running kit to charity, make your final Strava entry, and tell all your friends that’s it. It’s been fun running with them, but you’re done. You are a sub-noonah runner now. That is what you are and always will be. You could probably buy a t-shirt with it printed on. Spend the next ten years dwelling on past achievement, kidding yourself you could do it again with a few weeks training.

OK so that’s not how it works, is it? You’ll have a beer, sit back and before too long you’ll be out running again. People will ask what time you ran. They’ll congratulate you. They may compare themselves to you (belive me they are doing that even when they pretend not to). They may compare you to others (a lot of them are silently doing that too, they can’t help themselves). But you’re better than all that, you know you’re an experiment of one, only interested in challenging and bettering yourself. That’s when the the idea will creep into your mind…. Maybe I could go even faster…. Maybe I should… Maybe then I’d be what I want to be.

This cycle can be repeated a lot. I’ve got one friend on a quest for a sub X half marathon. At times it means everything to him. A blow up in a recent race resulting in a few minutes over that dream target half marathon had him questioning if he should bother to continue running, it mattered that much. I’m not quite sure how to point it out to him. Noone else really cares. Does he understand that he is choosing to put himself through this mental agony and in the process failing to enjoy a hobby that he loves? (If this sounds like you and you’re reading this blog, I’m sorry, give me a call mate!)

Now I understand the need to better oneself. I did it for years. I understand that attitude is a big part of what drives us to achieve great things. But, if you’re not enough without the race time, you’ll never feel enough with it. You’ll have to reach for bigger and bigger goals untill you finally realise it was never the goals that defined who you have become through running.

You are the person who has been through the process of learning about training, resting, being outdoors, being with like minded people, getting endorphins for free, getting in tune with your body, exploring new places, treating yourself well, feeling better, looking healthier, having more energy, becoming more consistent, improving self discipline, improving self image, developing in other areas of your life through the lessons learned in running, helping others to learn some of what you have learnt. You’ve done all these things. This is who you are, a runner.

Those goals along the way served a big purpose. They gave focus, reason, and meant you had to pick specific types of training to achieve them. You had to push yourself mentally and physically to do things you had never done before. Things you once thought were impossible. But the goals supported the process, that’s all.

Choose to run a faster marathon and you’ll need lots of road miles, a looong run each week, a medium long run mid week, and you’ll be tired. A lot.

A faster 5k will require very different training. Completing an ultra, competing at trail or fell races all demand specific training.

You should be setting goals that allow you to do the training you love. And can fit into life. Love hilly off road? Then target hilly trail or fell races. Love tapping out tarmac miles on winter nights, you could be marathon bound in the spring. Not all goals are about getting faster. Perhaps you want to attempt new distances, or terrain. Duathlon, Triathlon, Adventure racing, Multiple marathons, Annual mileage, A multi day adventure?, Sustaining times as you get older, or as you become a parent, maintaining age grading (wava), a race series like cross country or county road championship.

The trick is to make that goal specific and outside of comfort zone enough that you’re going to need to work at it but not sooo far that it’s not possible in the time frame. (yeah, I went on that work course about SMART objectives too and it annoys me a bit that it’s useful)

There’s no end of self improvement process to be enjoyed if you keep the goals varied. Trying to improve at running teaches us so much about ourselves. If you’re not honest with yourself and your coach you’ll never achieve your potential. You’ll learn to be more honest with yourself and others. If you don’t learn to choose and lead your internal monologue you’ll keep listening to those excuses or grumbles in the back of your mind on repeat. You’ll learn to shape the thoughts you have and build a positive mindset. If you can govern the mental games, eat well, rest well, commit to consistent training, monitor injuries and be proactive in preventing them; those goals will come towards you.

And when you run that Sub X marathon you’ll know exactly who you have become: A subtly different, wiser, version of yourself. With plenty of running still in front of you.


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