4 In Coach's Corner - Training Tips

How to Set and Finalize Race Goals

You’ve made it all the way to the end of your training cycle.  You think that all of the work is complete.  But, there are a few things that you should be doing in the final days to make sure that your race goes off without a hitch.  Today, the focus is on race day goal setting.

How many goals do you set for race day?

If you have been running for a while, you are probably familiar with the system of setting 3 race goals (A, B, and C).  At my last race, I forgot to do this and it caused anxiety on race day.  I would like to help you and make sure that you don’t make that same mistake.

Step 1: Evaluate your training

Did you have a thoughtful and well balanced plan addressing your specific needs? Did you show up and put in the work?  Did you complete the majority of the training days (we all know there are things that come up which will prevent a perfect training cycle and that is ok!)?  Did your race pace mileage runs feel like a controlled effort? 

If the answers are yes, you should feel really confident in your training base.  You have done everything that you need to do to position yourself well for your chosen race.  You should set your A goal equal to your preselected training goal pace.  Since we usually go in to a training cycle with a lofty goal, you get an A+ for beating that pace on race day.

If you missed a lot of training due to injury, changes in schedules, work, life, etcetera, it is time to think about what will be achievable.  I would set a conservative goal so that you don’t crash and burn early.  It is better to finish with a stronger second half than ride the struggle bus to the finish line.


Why do we pick three goals?

Your top goal will be the pace you can run on a perfect day in ideal conditions.  The second goal should be one that is within reach even if the conditions aren’t perfect or if something minor happens.  The third goal is one that you can stick with to get you through.  The last goal that you set might not be time related.  It might be something like running without walk breaks, high fiving as many people as possible, or finishing with a strong kick no matter what.

Here is an example.  For my upcoming half marathon I have 3 goals set.  My current PR time is 2:08 and some change.

A-     1:55 

B-      Sub 2

C-      A new PR

Going in to my last goal race, I put all of my eggs in one basket.  I trained to run a 23:00 5k to set a new PR.  Training went well and in the back of my mind, I knew that I had an out of town wedding the night before.  For me, this was not that big of a deal.  The night before a big race, I’m used to getting limited sleep.  The adrenaline rush at the start line has been enough to carry me through a short race.

What I wasn’t prepared for was the weather.  It was a later start and the temps would be in the 70’s with higher humidity than I would prefer.  Knowing that I needed perfect weather conditions to tackle my PR pace on race day, I started to over think everything.  I was on the verge of blowing the whole race and just running for fun with my dad. 

I’m not a fan of running so hard that I feel like I’m going to be sick which is what happens every time I race a 5k.  In my mind, I was trying to calculate how much discomfort I wanted to endure for a race that wouldn’t result in my big goal time.  It wasn’t until my coach told me to just line up with the 8 minute pacers that I finally decided to just suck it up and see how it goes.

And you know what?  I surprised myself.  I ran strong and smart.  I banked some time on the downhill to stay with the pacers at the top of the next hill.  Once I recovered for a minute, I took off and didn’t see the 8 minute pacers again.  It wasn’t my goal, it wasn’t even a new PR but it was my smartest 5k race to date.  I didn’t feel like I was going to die at the finish even though I laid it out there as much as I could.

So my best advice to you is to trust your training, make your goals ahead of time (at least 3), and run smart!

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  • Reply
    Agness of eTramping
    October 6, 2017 at 7:00 am

    This post was truly motivating, useful, and practical, Sara! I’ve learned so much from your tips! How long do you usually prepare for a race?

    • Reply
      October 7, 2017 at 8:15 pm

      Thank you! For a half marathon (going in with a good base) I use a 10-12 week plan. Training plans vary with the length of the race.

  • Reply
    amanda -runtothefinish
    October 10, 2017 at 10:14 am

    I think the problem is most folks pick a goal before going through training and then are afraid to waiver from it no matter how good or bad training was

    • Reply
      October 11, 2017 at 8:22 pm

      That is a great point! I think that for most people it is hard to readjust especially if training didn’t go well. Of course, that may backfire on the course and lead to a really bad race depending on the distance. Which I think would just be more discouraging than backing off from your ideal pace to start with. These are the tough points of racing smart.

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