Love Training More

Setting Training Cycle and Race Goals

January 11, 2018
This post is a bit of departure as I dive into some general running advice, pulled from the pages of my own developed “coaching manual” and as influenced by my own racing experiences.  Most of my blog posts are personal anecdotes about my own training, racing and experience as a runner who loves the sport.  Sometimes I feature our Love Training More runners and their experiences training and racing. Those are fun to do.  This is something a little different so here goes.
It’s January and many of our Love Training More runners are looking at fresh new training cycles, fresh new spring races and that often means looking at race goals. The following is collected from some dialogue between coach and runners on the topic of “race goals.”
After chasing the 3:10 barrier unsuccessfully x 2 marathons (Boston 2011 and Nashville 2015), I chose to stop making time-related goals for myself at the beginning of a training cycle.  There was no more “My goal is to break 3:10 at this race”.  My central training cycle goals became: get as fit as possible and get the best out of myself on race day, whatever that is.  When I ran a 3:11 at a very hot Boston that year (2016), I wasn’t disappointed because I missed this (arbitrary) time barrier (again), I was elated that I got the best out of myself on a 24 degree day with a bathroom break.
For my marathon PB of 3:03 (goodbye 3:10 barrier), I didn’t even narrow in on my race plan until I was on the plane to California last December, 2016.  When literally everyone asked me what my time goal was throughout that training cycle, I told them I didn’t have one, I was just getting as fit as possible. When the training cycle concluded and we got into taper and could see where we were at with fitness, Coach Lee gave me 2 options the week before the race.  On the plane ride, I chose the more aggressive one.  There’s a fundamental difference here. I didn’t spent my training cycle being obsessed about having to run this specific time. When training concluded and we could see where I was, my coach mapped out a race strategy.  The race day strategy was to run 4:19/km = 3:02:xx.  Minus the 400m extra I ran on account of no-good tangent running, that’s exactly what I ran.  That was a good choice for me.
I have Big Sur Marathon coming up on April 29, 2018.  People are asking me what my time goal is.  I have been answering: I don’t have one. I’m going to get as fit as possible and enjoy the process and have the best day that I can.
Like any running-related advice, you are all unique and I’m not promising this is going to work for you. You are each your own individual.  But my moral of the story is that there are goals that you can set during a training cycle beyond time goals:
Here are my suggestions for setting training cycle and race goals:
1. Let go of any pressure or commitment to a precise time goal
2. Instead, focus every day on enjoying the journey and the process:
  • Get excited about kicking butt in workouts, one at a time, and letting the workouts kick your butt on occasion too as that’s the normal process.
  • Feel happy and satisfied while you watch your mileage build- you make those numbers go up weekly.
  • See beautiful things while you run.
  • Be with awesome people.
  • That’s enjoying the process.

3. Let go of the numbers and just trust your coach to get you as fit as possible. Your coach will take care of the numbers.  Your coach will get you as fit as possible, as safely and injury-free as possible, so that you have the best opportunity possible to have a wonderful day of getting the best out of yourself on race day- be it what that day’s best is.

  • Prerequisite to this one: get a running coach

If you can do these 3 things, that’s when the training and racing magic can happen.

Now I will add a 4th goal, based on an old blog post circa 2011 that I unearthed this week thanks to Facebook memories.  I had forgotten that I wrote most of the content in this post that focused on my idea of parallels between parenting and running.
4. Be brave and believe in yourself

This is where I admire distance runners near and far for their bravery.  You need to be brave to dive into a training cycle and goal race because success in racing is flimsy. That’s the word I like for this: flimsy.  A runner can have the best possible training cycle under the best coach with very few missed days for injury and lots of confidence.  And then they can still flop on race day.

I know, this happened to me at Boston 2011.  Near perfect training. Healthy body. Healthy mind. Super husband, on the course to cheer for me. Super coach, on the course to cheer for my team and I.  My coach was fully confident that I was ready to run 3:10. I was fully confident. The weather was perfect. The wind was at my back. It should have been my day. Then the race began and I suffered mental death. I mentally blew up and blew my time goal.  You can read more in the race recap here.

Even with near-perfect conditions in both training and on race day, the race itself has no guarantees.  More things can go wrong than can go right. There is no guarantee that if you do “all of these things” then you will run 3:10.  Or whatever your time goal/race strategy is. It’s flimsy.

But you do it anyway, knowing the risk of failure is present. You choose to believe in yourself, over and over, and you tie up your shoes and toe the line again because you believe that one of those times, it is going to be your day.  And you’ll miss it if you don’t accept the risk of failure and get out there and try.  That’s brave.

So running nation and friends, best of luck getting into your spring race training cycles.  Enjoy the process. Let go of the numbers. Trust your coach.  Believe in yourself. Be brave.

Happy running.

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4 discusions on this article

  • Jill Ritchie
    1 month ago / Reply

    Fantastic advice Erin! Thanks for sharing

    • Erin Poirier
      1 month ago / Reply

      Thanks for reading, Jill! I hope that your running is going well!

  • Shauna
    1 month ago / Reply

    I love this. It truly is the philosophy that I have embraced after disappointing myself with too much pressure over time goals- that’s not what’s important. Believing, being positive and being able to walk away happy knowing you felt strong and did your best and enjoyed the experience are far more important than any time. The process, the journey is what we have to embrace, the same as life- enjoy the journey, embrace the ups and downs and believe and love- who knows what and when our end will be.

    • Erin Poirier
      1 month ago / Reply

      I love the journey together with you, Shauna! Like-minded BFFs make the journey better.