Wednesday, March 8

January and February

The first two months of the year were busy for my athletes. Most people think of winter as the off season, but not so much around here! Between early season running races and fat bike races, there have been some outstanding performances.

In January, both Shana B and Merideth B took on the hilly 10k Rescue Run in Colorado Springs. Shana finished in under an hour and Merideth ran six minutes faster then her prior best time for that race. But the month wasn't finished for them. They both were running in the Pikes Peak Road Runners Winter Series, a progressive four race series in January and February. The first race was a very hilly four mile race on the multi-use trails of Cheyenne Mountain State Park. Since this was Shana's first year doing the race series, we had no history and the goal was to run smart. We were also using the races as long training runs with extended warm up and cool down for prep for her goal half marathon. Merideth on the other hand ran the series last year, so we had some history. And she proved that consistent training and dedication pays off, setting new PRs at all the races. She was 11 minutes faster at the CMSP race and 9 minutes faster at the Noris-Penrose race.

Judd, rolling strong in the Arrowhead 135
Meanwhile, Don W and Judd R were in Minnesota, racing in the Arrowhead 135. It is a point to point snow race from International Falls, MN to the Fortune Bay Casino. Racers can choose between cycling, running or skiing to cover the distance. There's only three checkpoints and racers have to be prepared to managed and safety deal with the extremes of Minnesota weather. Don has raced in Arrowhead five prior times, with two DNFs. The goal this year was to finish and finish strong. But there is more to Arrowhead then just finishing. It's a community of riders all with the same common goal. For Don, helping one of his friends reach the finish line was more important then simply finishing fast. He rode the last 50 miles with Tedd and still set a new PR by over four hours, finishing in 33:02. And yes, that's 33 hours. Could he have gone under 30 hours? I'm sure he could have this year. But time on the trail was more important then the finish time. As for Judd, he did have a finish time goal in mind - 24 hours. This was also the final shake out of his gear for the Iditarod Trail Invitational at the end of February, so he was fully packed for an Alaska adventure. Overkill for this race, but important to make sure that everything works. Judd crushed it - finishing in 21:05, taking 15 hours off his prior fastest finishing time. He also set a new Single Speed Course Record in the process.

Don at the finish of the Arrowhead 135

Into February and it was time for the Super Half Marathon in Colorado Springs. Both Shana and Merideth were racing, as was I. For Shana, this was the goal half marathon. It was her first half marathon in many years and she wasn't sure of what time she should aim for, initially thinking a 2:20. I had my doubts about that - I thought it was a little slow. So we looked at the times from her workouts and the Winter Series races. I told her 2:05 - 2:10 was a much more realistic goal time, simply based on her workouts and other performances. Go for it... When I saw her in the race, she looked happy and strong. And finished in 2:05:09! Merideth also had a strong race - but hers was more mentally strong. The Super Half was a test half marathon, getting ready for the real goal in May. I always tell my athletes that we learn more from the hard races then we do from the easy ones - and this was was no different. Merideth finished strong, just outside her goal time. It was after the race, when she was looking at the results from her last half that we realized just how solid of an event the Super Half was for her. We might not have hit the goal time, but she was still 11 minutes faster then her last half marathon.


A slightly fuzzy photo of Shana after her successful Super Half Marathon

That wasn't all of the racing for those two though - there were still two more races in the Winter Series. They both ran the third race easy - it was the weekend after the Super Half and I didn't want them to force a fast race so quickly after a hard half marathon. I am especially proud of Merideth's performance at this year's Winter Series. She was faster at every single race, including the third one. Last year she did the 5k instead of the half marathon, but still took several minutes out of her time on the third race in the series. And the final race - the hilly 10k in the Black Forest and easily the hardest race in the series, Merideth was almost 14 minutes faster! Overall, she took nearly 45 minutes off her accumulated series time and finished 4th in the Athena class.

One final race result to report on - Chandler stepped off the trails and onto the road for a bit this winter, working on her speed before diving back into the ultra training. She made the drive down to Puebla for the Pueblo Half marathon on February 19th. It was a first year event by Mad Moose events, and fit perfectly into her work schedule as an ICU RN. The concrete was a little harder then we'd anticipated, but the course and course support was top notch - just what I've come to expect and love about the Mad Moose races. Chandler had a solid race, finishing in 2:07:39. I know she's looking forward to returning to the trails for her big races of the season later in the year!

Tuesday, February 7

Goals

As a physical therapist, the first thing we are often taught is how to write measurable and functional goals for our patients. These goals need to be patient directed, addressing the deficits and prior level of function for each patient. Cookie cutter goals don't work in therapy because each patient is different. It is no different as a coach and assisting an athlete writing goals for the upcoming season and even the next few years. The goals have to be written with input from the athlete, directed towards the specific events the athlete has planned, and addressing the athlete's weakness and strengths. They should help the athlete reach the long term goal, but with short term goals along the way to reflect progress. But good goals are hard to write and that limits many people in their ability to achieve their goals. The goals are either too easy and don't challenge the athlete or they are too hard and nearly impossible to reach. The goals are often not detailed enough, making the process required to reach them difficult to plan. How do you write measurable, achievably challenging, detailed goals?

Using the acronym SMART - Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-based.
Specific - You have to identify the target of the goal. Thinking of the W-questions from writing is helpful here to make it even easier - who, what, why, when, where. Who is you, the athlete, what might be the target race or workout, why is the motivation for the goal, when is addressed more in the time section and where is the location such as a specific race or event. So while "Run a marathon" is a goal, it's not a specific goal. There's no process to help reach that goal. A better example would be "Run the Pikes Peak Marathon before I'm 40" or "Qualify for the Boston Marathon in 2018." Those goals are both very specific - naming targets (what and where) and when ( before I'm 40 or 2018.) The who is usually implied to be the athlete and the why can be public or private - just make sure you know the motivation.

Measurable - Quantify the goal using metrics specific for the event. Back to the "Run a marathon" goal. It's not a measurable goal because there's no way to determine success. "Running the Pikes Peak  Marathon in 7:30 before I'm 40" has a measurable component - the time to finish the event. When writing goals that involve finishing times, those are more fluid then qualifying times and can be more personal. Meanwhile, the other goal becomes "Run a 3:30 marathon in 2018 to qualify for the 2019 Boston Marathon."

Achievable - How hard will this goal be to meet? While there's nothing wrong with writing tough goals, there do need to be steps along the way to measure progress. "Run a marathon" might not be an achievable goal for someone who hasn't run mile in years. So we need to break it down in smaller segments - the short and long term goals there can be progress towards the ultimate long term goal. Our runner aiming for the Pikes Peak Marathon might break his goal down into two goals - one short term more achievable and then the long term goal. "Finish the Pikes Peak Ascent in 4:30 the year I turn 38" is a good short term goal for running the Pikes Peak Marathon. The runner trying to qualify for Boston might have two short term goals for for half marathons prior to her goal marathon. This is where a good coach can help with writing the goals - both here and in the next section

Realistic - is the goal something that you as an athlete can accomplish? Setting goals that aren't realistic for current level of fitness is asking for disappointment. The runner doing Pikes Peak marathon might have a realistic goal if he's been active and hiking. It might not be realistic if he's never done any hiking or running and will be turning 40 this year. The runner aiming for her Boston qualification time is setting a realistic goal if she's run a 3:35 or something similar. If her prior PR is over 4:00, there might be some issues with reaching that goal. That's not to say there can't be huge improvements in performance, but it's not frequent that you see that kind of improvement.

Time-based - For athletes, this is an easy one. Every time we pick an event, there is a time constraint on the goal. The date of the event. The short term goals will have closer end dates then the long term goal.

Following this process, the initial example long term goal of "run a marathon" has now become "Finish the Pikes Peak Marathon in 7:30 before I turn 40 in 2020" or "Run the American Discovery Trail marathon on Sept 4th in 3:29 to qualify for the 2019 Boston Marathon."

One more thing to consider while writing and setting goals - short term vs long term goals. The examples above are both of long term goals - the ultimate achievement. It's hard for most people to focus on goals that are so far away and in some cases a stretch to reach at this time. That's where the short them goals come into play. They are more process oriented - the stepping stones towards the long term goal. Instead of being an event a year or more out, short term goals can be as simple as hitting a target workout in the next two months or a shorter distance race that helps build towards the long term goals. Two short term goals for the first runner might be "run a half marathon in October 2017 under 2:20 to qualify for the PPA" and then "finish the PPA in 2018 in under 4:30." Both those goals provide stepping stones and a process to follow for an ultimate goal that is years away. They also address the need for qualifying for the marathon and the process involved in getting into the race. The other runner might have more workout based goals such as "bring my threshold pace down to 7:30 by the end of 2017" or a race based goal such as "finish the 2018 Super Half Marathon in 1:40."

Notice that I did not talk about place or finish position. I don't like using place as a metric for goals because it isn't something you can control. You have no control over who decides to sign up for a race and that has a bigger effect on position then anything. If some real fast people show up, you might reach your goal time at an event and be steps off the podium. Likewise, if it's a smaller field the goal time might not have been realistic and you still win. Goals should be set on variables you and your coach can control.