Setting Goals for the Race Season

The goal setting process is going to vary for people depending on what type of racing, past race experience and amount of training dedicated to an event. For instance, if you have set your sights on your first 5k, your race goals are going to vary greatly from someone who has been running marathons. The same holds true for a cyclist versus a runner. This article will give you some general guidelines for the goal setting processed based on your sport and experience level. Of the disciplines discussed in this article there are a few common factors which include but are not limited to proper nutrition. hydration, appropriate sleep/rest and weather.

Let’s begin with the goal of running a road race. If it is the first race that you have ever run your goals will be based solely on  your training. Say you average a 10 minute mile during a typical training run, you will want to figure a slightly faster race pace, based on adrenaline and the desire to keep up with the pack. To more accurately estimate an appropriate finish time I would recommend doing a “dry” run of the course about 2 weeks out if possible and make this a “tempo” (comfortably hard) run. By doing a timed training run on the course you will get a better sense of what you can anticipate in terms of actual distance and terrain (hills, flats, etc.) and you will also want to try to plan the training run at about the same time of day that the race is scheduled for.  Including as many variables as you can to mimic the race day experience will provide the most accurate estimate of race day finish time.

After getting a couple of races under your belt you can then set your race goals based on previous times. If you choose to run the same race you can compare your previous race times and training for the current season to come up with a fairly close estimate of your projected finish time. If however, you choose a different race, be sure to look at terrain (trail vs. street) and the number and grade of hills on the race course. If there are more hills there is a good chance that your time may be slightly slower than that of a flatter course. Knowing the elevation of the course will also help with the training and preparation phase. As you continue your running you will learn to build in days with more hill training and speed work.

If you are a cyclist or aspiring cyclist establishing goals is slightly different. If you begin training alone, time yourself for your average mile pace, so that when you plan your rides you can get a sense of how long it will take to complete a given distance. Once you have established that initial average you can then refine your power output and cadence to improve your average mile pace. Once you have begun riding, you may want to consider joining a group ride. The group dynamic will provide an opportunity to learn more about training technique and will also allow you to draft off other riders which will provide a 20-30% improvement in efficiency on average.

For the seasoned cyclist, it is recommended to schedule the same race from year to year to accurately measure improvements in performance. The terrain will remain the same and the only unpredicted variable is the weather. Once you have done a race it is easier to assess where your weaknesses lie and be able set your goals based on where you need to improve. An accurate estimation of finish time is more likely when you are familiar with the race course. If you are serious about the sport and are willing to invest some money to upgrade the bike and buy a few useful gadgets such as a computer and power meter you can more accurately analyze your riding performance to set your goals.

The last of the endurance event I will discuss is triathlon. Of the three competitions this may be the most difficult to predict in terms of race goals. It is obvious that there are three sports involved, so setting realistic goals can be more challenging. In addition to the three disciplines you must factor in transition time, open water vs. pool swim, and fuel timing. If you are a first time triathlete you begin setting your goals based on the time it takes to complete each discipline for the given distance of the race during your training time. For example, if it is a sprint you are training for the swim is typically 1/4-1/3 mile and can be open water or pool depending on the race. To get a close estimation of your swim goal you will want to train for the race distance and use your average time as a rough estimate. The circumstances of the swim will vary slightly if it is open water, for instance, training alone can not fully prepare you for the start when there are several people swimming around you and you may feel the occasional hand at your feet or have to pay attention to the kicking legs in front of you. Also, if there is a wetsuit involved this will give you a buoyancy advantage which will help improve your time slightly. You may do the same with the bike portion, taking the average time for completion of the race distance as well as for the run.

Once you have an average for all three splits you will get a rough idea of your finish time. As for transition time, this is an area that also requires some practice. Transitions can vary quite a bit from race to race depending on the set up. Some races require that you run from the swim to the transition area to get your bike for the second split. The run distance can be as much as 1/2 mile give or take, then the time to change gear (longer if you have to get out of a wetsuit) and get on that bike. The second transition (T2) should be faster, since it typically only involves racking the bike, removing the helmet and changing shoes. Although transition time can be a tough piece to predict, practicing will help create a smooth, efficient one. Practice setting up the equipment in a mock transition area will help you get a sense of where equipment should be placed for maximum efficiency during your transition. I would recommend taking a training day about two weeks out from race day to complete a “dry” run. The time for the dry run will not be exact, but it will allow you to become familiar with the course and practice your transitions so that you eliminate some of the guess-work.

If you are a seasoned triathlete the best way to establish accurate race goals is to complete the same race more than once. As I had mentioned there are many variables to triathlon and some may vary greatly from race to race, but it is never helpful to compare one race to another of a completely different course. One may be very hilly versus another that is considered flat and fast or one transition situation may be very different from another. In other words, its like comparing apples to oranges. You may use your training times as an estimate, but setting your finish time goal on one course versus anther may proved to be frustrating and perhaps even a disappointment.

No matter what your endurance sport of choice, always consider proper nutrition, hydration and rest as important factors in performance. All of these factors will affect your ability to finish strong and give it all you’ve got on race day. Train safe and enjoy the race experience.

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