Archive for October, 2016

What is goal setting and why do I need it?

10-peaks-1_0508The team at Lakeland 50 & 100 are pleased to have Dr Ian Boardley as a guest blogger. Ian is a sports psychology lecturer at the University of Birmingham and a 5 time Lakeland 100 finisher. He will be writing a monthly blog post to help you prepare for the 2017 event. You can follow him on Twitter HERE

The Lakeland 50 and 100 are daunting events even for those that have completed them in the past, but can be especially stress inducing for those attempting them for the first time. As such, newcomers and past masters alike can benefit from techniques that can help them take control of their preparation for the event. One popular technique that can help you structure and monitor your preparation for big events such as these is goal setting. Goals can act like magnets, pulling you towards new levels of performance by giving your mind a focus and your training a clear purpose. Whilst many athletes will naturally set goals for themselves, doing this on an ad hoc basis without guidance from the goal-setting literature can limit the effectiveness of the technique or even render it ineffective or even damaging to one’s performance. The aim of this blog post, and the ones that follow is to outline the potential benefits of goal setting and how to use it most effectively to guide and structure your build-up to the Lakeland 50/100 2017.

Before we start to think about how to use goal setting most effectively, we need to identify exactly what we mean by a goal, and what kinds of goals ultra-runners may set for upcoming events. Goals represent what a person is trying to accomplish, or the objective or aim of a specific action. As such, an appropriate place to start is at the end point. What specifically do you want to get out of your race next July; right now what is your primary aim or objective of taking part? For some runners it might be something concrete, such as finishing within a specific time or winning their category whereas for others it may be something more abstract such as enjoying the race itself, or the journey that leads them to it. As we will see later, the specific nature of the goals we set and work towards can affect the effectiveness of goal setting. As such, you may wish to revise your overall goal further down the line. However, it is important to have a starting point so you know what you are aiming to achieve at the start. At this stage it could be good to write down your current overall goal so you can revisit this later to see how it may have changed along the way. Of course, you may have more than one overall objective and if so you may wish to record each of these.

Prior to investing time in goal setting, you may wish to know what the potential benefits of effective goal setting can be. The list that follows identifies some of the key outcomes associated with effective goal setting:

  • Enhanced focus and concentration
  • Increased self-confidence
  • Reduction and/or management of stress
  • Creation of a positive mental attitude
  • Increased motivation
  • Improved training quality
  • Enhancement of skill, technique and strategy
  • Improved performance

Maybe not all of these outcomes are ones you currently identify as important to your running, but it is assumed at least some of them are appealing. Whilst identifying the potential benefits of goal setting is important to motivate athletes to adopt goal setting as a technique, it is important to point out at this stage that one of the most empowering outcomes of goal setting for those who commit to it is an increased focus on the process as opposed to the product. This may seem somewhat counterintuitive at this stage, but experiencing how goal setting can make the journey itself as important as – if not more important than – the destination itself should hopefully help you see what I mean by this. Thus, although the initial reasons you engage in goal setting are important, its ability to help you enjoy the act of running itself may ultimately be as important as any of the reasons you initially adopt it.

Research evidence suggests goal setting can be one of the most effective performance enhancement strategies available. For instance, goals can facilitate performance by focusing athletes’ attention on relevant factors, increasing their effort and intensity as appropriate and by helping them to persist when facing adversity or potential failure. However, as mentioned earlier its effectiveness can be heavily influence by how it is used. Of foremost importance are the type/s of goal/s set, and how different goals are connected. The remainder of this blog will centre on addressing this issue. The subsequent blog will then identify other key characteristics of effective goal setting, and how to apply them in your preparation for the Lakeland 50/100.

When looking to use goal setting in sport, it is important to recognise the different types of goals athletes can set. There are three main types of goal, often referred to as outcome, performance and process goals. First, outcome goals focus on the outcomes of an event and are usually based on comparing your performance to others. Examples of these types of goals are winning a race, being the first lady finisher, or being the first person to finish from your running club. Next, performance goals are concerned with the end products of performance, with achievement of goals viewed according to the attainment of absolute and often self-referenced standards. Examples of performance goals are breaking 30 hours for the Lakeland 100 or beating your previous best time. Finally, process goals focus on the processes you incorporate into races or training sessions that are aimed at helping you to optimise your performance during an event/session. Examples of such goals include running within a set heart rate range, following a nutritional plan, implementing a run/walk strategy or if and when to use poles. Thus, the goals you set for races can be categorised as outcome, performance or process goals.

An important aspect of effective goal setting is the linking of outcome, performance and process goals such that your process and performance goals are directly aligned with your outcome goal. To do this you need to identify appropriate performance and process goals to align with the level of performance you anticipate will be required to achieve your specified outcome goal. For example, a runner who wants to finish in the top three of the LL100 is likely to need a time of <23h to stand a chance of achieving this outcome goal. Looking at stage times for previous <23h performances can then help determine performance goals to target for each stage of the race. Then, based on past experience on the Lakeland or similar courses and/or recces of the course, the heart rate, cadence and nutritional intake required to maintain <23h pace could be calculated; these values would then be used to set the runner’s process goals. These process goals would then become the main focus for the runner during the race; if set correctly and achieved these process goals should then help the runner achieve his/her aim of a <23h performance, and all being well (depending on the performances of others!) help him/her to finish in the top three.

So that’s as far as we will take it for this blog, but next time we will start to look at other considerations in setting effective goals, and how to start planning your goal-setting strategy to guide your training for the coming months leading up to your big day in the Lakes!

Leave a comment