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 two blogs in this series, I have introduced goal setting and why athletes use it, as well as discussing different types of goals, which goals to set and key characteristics of effective goals. In the current post we will progress the topic further by looking at key aspects of the goal-setting process. As usual, throughout the post I will provide examples of how to apply the topics covered to your preparation for the Lakeland 50 and 100. I again encourage you to reflect on your own running and the relevance of goal setting to it as you read the blog. To get the most out of goal setting, it has to be something that becomes part of your day-to-day training. This may sound onerous, but over time you start to use it automatically so although there is work needed in the early stages to develop good goal-setting skills, once it starts to become routine it doesn’t involve much effort but the returns can be high.
To ensure you set effective goals for yourself, it is important you follow a logical goal-setting process. Initially it is important to identify where you would like your performance levels to be on race day in July – by identifying a target level of performance you can then start to break this down into the key performance attributes (speed, strength endurance) that will be needed to achieve this level of performance. Once you have these you can then compare them to your current abilities for these attributes to determine whether your overall performance goal is realistic from the outset. As such, given ideal conditions and the perfect day, what time would be on the clock when you cross the finish line in Coniston? Do you think you will be going into Coniston for a pint or for breakfast after you finish!? Once you have this time in mind the next step is to conduct a thorough needs assessment. Write down the key attributes you see in a top Lakeland 50/100 performer and then identify which of these attributes you consider to be your strengths and weaknesses. At this stage it is also good to get the views of others who know you well to see if their opinions correspond with yours. So ask your coach (if you have one), training partners and romantic partner (if you have one and they take a close interest in your running) to rate you on these attributes too. Through this exercise you are looking to identify three to five performance attributes that most need improvement or that are critical to optimal performance in July. Once you have the three to five key areas for improvement, specifically identify key areas of that attribute you need to work on. For instance, if you identify nutrition as an area for nutrition, identify the specific aspects of nutrition our need to work on (e.g., maintaining hydration status, energy balance during stages, avoiding gastrointestinal distress, selecting the right foods at checkpoints). Once you have these specific areas identified you can incorporate them into your process goals for training/racing (depending on the process) within your programme. by the end of this step you should have a number of target processes/foci for each of your three to five areas for improvement. Throughout this step try to keep in mind that time you set for yourself in step 1. Does it still sound reasonable as a target? If so then proceed. If not then revisit and revise!
Following step 2, you then need to take the list of processes/training foci and start to prioritise and coordinate them into a logical order. For some attributes you can work on them simultaneously (e.g., you can work on your nutrition whilst also developing your climbing or descending abilities in the mountains), whereas others are better to separate out into different phases (e.g., developing leg speed and high-end power is probably better scheduled earlier in the programme before you start to work on more specific attributes such as mountain-ultra strength and endurance). As well as the most logical order for your goals, also keep in mind the priority of the goals – which are the ones you think are going to make the most difference in July? Ideally try to incorporate all aspects of the three to five areas for improvement, but if this doesn’t seem possible then lean towards the ones you consider to be highest priority. So by going through a kind of sorting process whereby some of your goals are placed earlier in your programme, others are placed later, and some may run throughout the programme you should start to assemble a general schedule for your training goals along with some race-specific process goals (e.g., practicing nutritional schedule, racing with poles over terrain similar to Lakeland 50/100) to apply in your build-up races. At this point it is a good time to think about which build-up races you want to incorporate into your programme, and what performance/process goals you should be aiming for at these races. You may have a bucket list of races you would like to run, but try not to select your build-up races based on this list (although include some of these if they are appropriate). Instead, try to look at which attributes you are working on at different phases in your overall schedule and select races to develop/assess these attributes towards the end of the block of training you are working on. So if you have a speed focussed phase early on, then towards the end of this phase you may wish to include one or two shorter trail races (or even road half/full marathons) to test out and develop your speed. Similarly, if you are working on mountain skills then look for technical races, and if the focus is mountain strength/endurance then look for some shorter ultras with elevation gain/loss equivalent to or beyond (very good idea if mountain strength is a perceived weakness) that you will encounter at the Lakeland 50/100.
At this point you may be starting to think this is looking more like a blog of developing training programmes than one on goal setting! However, the key point is the two go hand-in-hand. You need to be clear on your goals to develop a good training plan, but you need a good training plan to work on and test your goals! As such, if you have a coach it is important that he/she is an integral part of the goal setting process. That isn’t to say he/she should set your goals for you though – you need to be an integral part of it to! On that point, and to bring things back to goal setting, I will finish up on some recommendations regarding goal commitment and ways in which you can try to remain committed to your goals. First, try to personalise your goals as much as possible – set target that are specific to you and not based on what others have done or are trying to do. Next, make sure you have a central input to your goals (see earlier point). Also, it is good to write down your goals so once you have completed your sorting task and identified key races, write everything out on a plan, stick it to the wall somewhere you see regularly and enter those races! Incentivising and rewarding goal achievement can help too, so add in some rewards for goals in your overall schedule (new kit is better than cake or a takeaway for performance by the way!). Finally, share your goals with key members of your support network – those people you asked during the needs assessment stage are a good choice here.
To conclude, in this blog we have looked at key aspects of the goal-setting process. Collectively, the material presented across the three blog posts to date has been building towards the development of your goal-setting strategies for the Lakeland 50/100 2017. Across the full series we will look at goal setting for training and goal setting for race day separately. Hopefully you are starting to see your gaols for training and your build-up races start to take shape now. In the next blog we will look closer at the specifics of the training goals you have set for your build-up to the race, and how to identify and overcome potential barriers as well as ways in which you can monitor and evaluate progress and potentially adjust your goals along the way if necessary. In the later months we will then look at setting your goals for the race itself, and your experiences during your build-up races will help inform these.