How to set effective goals for the Lakeland 50/100

The 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

In the first of this series of blogs, I introduced the concept of goal setting, and why it can be a useful strategy for ultra-runners tackling challenges such as the Lakeland 50 and 100. We also considered why people set goals, what the benefit of setting goals can be and the three main types of goals and how these should be linked. In the present post, I am going to build what I covered in the first one by starting to look at some of the practicalities of goal setting. First, I will make the case for why you I recommend you primarily focus of performance and process goals (see Blog 1 if you don’t know what these are), then I will discuss some of the key characteristics of effective goals. Throughout the post I will provide examples of how the material I cover can be applied to the Lakeland 50 and 100. What may be useful as you read this blog is if you take these examples and try to apply them to your own running, and the goal/s you have identified for your specific race in 2017.

Last month I discussed the differences between outcome, performance and process goals, and suggested these should be linked so that your process goals are designed to help you achieve your performance goals, and your performance goals are matched to standards of performance that are needed to achieve your outcome goal/s. Building on this, I would like to suggest that the majority of the goals you set, and the ones that you should use to evaluate your performances should be process and performance goals. Why is this you may ask, when people are often outcome focussed (“did you win?”, “what place did you come?”, and so on and so forth). Well firstly, performance and process are far more within our control. For instance, you could run a personal best in a race and still finish lower than you ever have done before, just because the field was strong. In this situation if you evaluated your performance on your outcome goal it would likely be judged a poor performance, whereas if you evaluated it on your performance goal it would probably be viewed as a success. Well that makes sense, so why bother with process goals in my evaluation you may say. Well think about a race you have done on more than one occasion but in vastly different conditions (i.e., ideal conditions on one occasion and complete maelstrom throughout on another). How meaningful is a comparison between the times you ran in these two races – not very you may be thinking! Thus, even though performance goals can have benefits over outcome goals, they too have their limitations. In contrast, if you judged your performances in those two races based upon whether you achieved your process goals you should be able to derive much more meaningful information such as which processes worked and how you may adapt these goals in future events to further optimise performance. Ultimately, performance and process goals are more controllable and stable indicators of performance so it is good to primarily focus on these types if goals when goal setting.

So now we have determined the best types of goals to focus on primarily, we are going to take a look at how we can most effectively set our performance and process goals. The first important characteristic of goals to consider is how specific and measurable they are. To demonstrate the importance of this, compare and contrast the following two goals for the Lakeland 100. First, a runner may set himself the goal of trying his hardest, whereas another may set herself the goal of finishing the race in under 30 hours. The first of these is extremely vague and almost impossible to measure objectively. How is a runner setting this type of goal going to know whether he has been successful in achieving his goal – do we ever really know whether we have tried our hardest? In contrast, the second goal is highly specific and measurable. For good or bad, the second runner is clearly going to whether she has achieved this performance goal. Such goals tend to be more effective because they identify a clear standard by which we can judge success, classify the level of performance we expect from ourselves and give us a clear criterion that provides a guide for setting other process and performance goals (e.g., the average pace we need to maintain, target splits for check points, average heart rate we need to maintain, pace targets to keep during long runs over similar terrain in training). So, the first guideline for setting effective goals is to set specific measurable goals.

Another key consideration when setting goals is the level of difficulty we set our goals at – should we be setting goals that are right on our limits or ones that are much easier that we stand a much better chance of achieving? Research on goal setting suggests moderately difficult goals represent the level of difficulty we should be aiming for, so how do we best go about setting such goals. This is where evaluating past performances and using these to gauge what is achievable in oncoming races is very important. To do this, review your performances over the past 12-18 months, and identify your best performances and the training you did to achieve them. Then, look realistically at the training your think you can commit to between now and next July, and assuming you can commit to similar or higher levels of training to those that brought your best performance/s over the last 12-18 months, set a target for the Lakeland 50/100 that is just beyond what you achieved then. If you have not competed in one of the Lakeland events, look at what people who you know have achieved and use this information in formulating a performance goal for you that is just beyond the performance level/s you have achieved recently. If you don’t think you can commit to similar or higher levels of training, then you should adjust your goals accordingly based on what you think you can realistically commit to. So, the second guideline for setting goals is to set moderately difficult goals.

Another aspects of goal setting relates to whether we should setting goals on things we want to do more of (i.e., increasing desirable behaviours such as regular strength-training sessions) or whether to centre goals on factors we want to reduce (i.e., decreasing undesirable behaviours such as not eating unhealthy foods during key training phases). Generally it is better to set positively focussed goals that identify what you want to accomplish rather than negatively focussed goals that focus the mind on potentially detrimental behaviours. So for the negative example above it would be better to set goals relating to the food you should be eating to support your training, rather than ones that target decreasing the unhealthy foods that are not going to help you recover and adapt from your training. As a by-product of achieving your positive goals (e.g., eating foods that are linked with adaptation in this example) you should reduce the negative behaviour (eating unhealthy foods) anyway but without feeling you have failed if you occasionally engage in the negative behaviour. So, the third guideline for effective goal setting is to set goals that focus on increasing and achieving desirable behaviours and outcomes rather than ones centred on undesirable ones.

The final aspect of effective goals setting we are going to look at here is the importance of setting both short- and long-term goals. Long-term goals are needed to give your training and racing an overall destination, and the short-term goals will guide you along the best route to arrive at that destination. If you like, your long-term goal represents a final grid-reference, whereas your short term goals represent all the bearings and tracks you will need to follow to arrive at that grid-reference. Now I would assume that a long-term goal for most people will be their performance at the Lakeland 50/100 in 2017, although for some – especially for some 50 runners – this race could be a stepping stone along the way to something bigger. Taking the former case, the first key step is to identify a specific, measurable, moderately difficulty positively focussed goal for next July. From there, you then need to assess your current strengths and weaknesses and identify all the key factors you need to work on and improve to close the gap between where you are now and where you want to be on the 28th July 2017. They factors may centre on processes you need to improve (e.g., hydration/nutrition strategy, regular and consistent use of poles) as well as physical (e.g., aerobic conditioning, speed, functional strength) or technical (e.g., speed and efficiency on technical/downhill terrain) attributes that need further development. Once you have identified these key factors that you need to address, you need order these in a logical order and set specific progressive goals that identify criterion levels of improvement that you can work towards and evaluate progress based upon. Races should be specifically selected along the way so that they help you develop and test the processes you plan to implement in July, and also allow you to test your performance levels as you progress. Ideally, you should have short-term goals set for every 4-6 weeks so that you always have an immediate focus for your current training. If you are in the latter camp and your Lakeland event is a stepping stone on the way to something else then the process is the same, you just need to identify where your Lakeland race fits in this overall plan and what process/performance goals you should be setting for the Lakeland50/100 based on what you are working towards and where it sits time wise in your build-up to your main event.

To conclude, in this blog we have looked at the types of goals we should be setting the majority of the time – performance and process – and four key factors that we need to consider if we are going to develop an effective goal-setting strategy that will help you to arrive in Coniston next July with the strategic, physical and technical attributes needed to achieve your goals for the race. In the next blog we will take this one step further and look at goal-implementation strategy and how actually put the goals you have hopefully now set into action.

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