Working out goals for my ultra races

I have a day off today as it’s May day.  We had a relaxed morning which included a Skype chat with Emma and Yonas which was great.

At lunchtime I went for a steady 8mile run.  I was really pleased that my legs felt fine after yesterday’s 25mile run.  I really do feel ready for the Hardmoors 110.

I spent some of the run thinking about my goals for the HM110 after posting my “Guess My Time’ Competition.  I’ve always enjoyed having time goals to aim for.  Positions don’t really motivate me because they are totally dependant on who is running.

I’ve always enjoyed having goals and for my first few ultras I had a single goal.  William Sichel, record breaking ultra runner, emailed me in 2010 with the following thoughts about goal setting ….

My advice ref goal setting:
Always have at least 3 targets:
Basic Goal:  This is a goal which you really should reach whatever the weather and even on an off day ie set low.
Realistic Goal: This is the time that you have a realistic chance of getting, given a good run and reasonable weather.
Barrier Breaking Goal:  This is your dream time, if this is your day, weather is perfect etc. Needs to be set high.
Of course you can have these 3 goals for all your timing points throughout the race and may move between them during the course of the event.  It goes without saying that it is worth giving quite a lot of thought and effort to deciding on your goal times.
Following a race, always take as many positives from your performance as you can find. Do everything you can to avoid feeling disappointment after an event.
These notes from sports psychologist Willie Railo are also worth thinking about especially with regard to the Barrier-Breaking Goals:
“As soon as the brain registers that a goal has been realised, or is very likely to be realised, our mental energy sinks.”
“Feelings of tiredness are, to a large extent, dependant on the concrete goal that athletes have been led to expect.”
If the realistic goal is set too low it can function as a barrier & actually will be more negative than positive i.e. have a braking effect.
Barrier-breaking goals on the other hand can function as ice-breakers; they penetrate through subconscious blocking mechanisms & draw the person to yet greater heights.

I have taken William’s advice on board since then and always had my bronze, silver and goal goals.  Andy Cole did a very interesting piece on goal setting for a recent West Highland Way Race podcast.

Andy suggested that you should just have 1 goal otherwise it gets confusing but I still prefer to have my 3 goals so if things are going badly I still have my bronze goal of finishing to keep me going.

This year though I’ve found that my gold goal hasn’t been quite challenging enough. In the Hardmoors 30 my gold was sub 6hrs and I finished in 5.01 so it didn’t really motivate me as I was well under.

In the Hardmoors 55 my gold was sub 10.30 which I thought was going to be a tough challenge but I was 20mins under it.  I found that because I knew from 10 miles out that I was going to be well under that target I did take my foot off the target just like the sports psychologist Willie Railo wrote above.

So for the Hardmoors 110 I’ve decided to add in a Platinum goal of sub 26hrs.  Obviously I could make that my gold but I’m concerned that if I do and fall behind it then it will have a negative effect.

So I will work on sub 27hrs as my gold and if, and it’s a big if, everything is going even better than expected I will have a higher goal to motivate me right to the end.

In less than 3 weeks we’ll find out whether it helps!!

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2 Responses to Working out goals for my ultra races

  1. I used the bronze, silver, gold and platinum goals for my Fling, with the platinum being the dream that was likely out of reach but still plausible if everything went perfectly. Knowing that you can make a goal time or not for sure has a positive or negative influence on your motivation to keep pushing on late in a race.

    The problem with concrete times as goals it that it can lead one to taking it too easy if looks like you are well inside your goal, or if it looks like your are going to miss it you back off and drop drastically off your target and your capabilities.

    Perhaps one way around it might be to set a lofty out of reach time that your goal not to achieve this but get as close to as your can.

    Another route might be to ignore target times and run the best of your ability. Running purely by feel in an ultra is incredibly hard to do well, subjective assessments of how hard we are working can be so malleable that this route is really open to convincing oneself that one ran a race as well and hard as one could, but from objective measures this might not be the case at all.

    Racing by heart rate might be one way of having a more objective measure of how hard one raced – if your average HR for a given race duration is higher then it’s likely that you were able to push on harder. It’s not entirely reliable measure though, fitness and health on the day can alter the heart rate you see for a given level of work, and our heart rate typically lowers with age. Alas there unlikely to be ever a perfectly objective measure for how well you raced relative to your capacity so we’ll be stuck choosing best proxies for it.

    In my Fling race I had my goal times and splits, but primarily raced by heart-rate. The splits at Drymen and Rowardennan made me think that a 10:15 time looked like most likely if I finished strongly. I just kept running listening to my body via my heart monitor and quite unexpectedly found myself on for a sub 10 hour time when I arrived at Beinglas. Knowing that my gold target was back on helped with my positive outlook and commitment to finishing strong, but conversely I also knew that I couldn’t screw thing up by attempting to finish too strong and risk blowing up. So I ran the last 12 miles by heart-rate but without upping the range I was targeting, in effect I stayed conservative but kept pushing on ended up well under my 10 hour target.

    If it had looked possible that I could have done 9:30 then I would have probably pushed on harder in the last twelve miles and taken more of risk. However, I could have just ended up exhausted, blighted with cramp rather than seeing glorious sub 9:30 finish.

    Perhaps mixing and matching ways of assessing how well you are racing is the way forward, so rather than just have time goals, you set yourself a highest finishing place, or time relative to the winner, or over take the most runners, whatever goals help motivate you to keep running well. Or perhaps as Andy Cole did suggest perhaps too many goals/measures is counter productive..

  2. Thanks Robert. I’m thinking quite a bit about my strategy for the Hardmoors 110. I have my sub 27hr splits but I’m also going to pay close attention to my HR and making sure I stay as comfortable as possible for as long as possible!

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