There’s something in the air on the first day of January. Blame it on the descending ball in New York’s Times Square, the fireworks over Australia’s Sydney Opera House, or the haze of confetti that covers the world as we collectively advance into the future. No matter where you were on New Year’s Day, you were probably thinking about how you’re going to make this year a better one than the last. For us triathletes, such resolutions are often tied to future races.
A lot of people talk about their race plans for the year using explanatory statements like, “Because of my knees, I’ll just be doing the 70.3,” or, “There’s a lot going on this summer, so I’ll just be racing for fun.” Triathletes seem to feel the need to provide a disclaimer for any goal that falls outside a marquee event or challenging quest to demolish a PR. Why do we feel this way? Perhaps because of our inherent desire to set the bar high. I beg to differ: there’s a lot to be gained from smaller, less glamorous goals.
Setting the bar a little lower can reveal new strengths, prevent burnout, and allow you to enjoy your training without feeling pressured by it. Whether you’re just beginning to outline your winter triathlon program or already have your sights set on a big race, try these tips for shifting your focus to some of training’s smaller moments.
Set 15-Minute Goals
Training programs often outline workouts in blocks of time or distance, causing us to evaluate our performance in the same way. If we have a three-hour cycling ride planned, we’ll evaluate our experience of the workout against our expectation of what a three-hour ride should feel like. So rather than looking at the workout as three hours, try breaking it down into 12 stages of 15 minutes each, and come up with a goal for each one. For example, in the first 15 minutes, focus on establishing a cadence. In the next 11 stages, come up with random goals that test your mental and physical skills—riding in the same gear for 15 minutes without shifting, staying in the aero position for one stage, maintaining a certain heart rate, etc. The point of this drill is to train the mind and body to work together to accomplish something on demand. It’s the act of establishing the goal and then sticking to it that matters. If your workout is outlined by distance rather than time, divide the miles into several stages to do this drill.
Set a Qualitative Goal
Triathletes are attached to numbers—heart rates, finishing times, ounces, and pounds. We quantify so much of what we do; even our race distances become a numbers game. For each workout and race, be sure to set at least one qualitative goal to work toward. Be specific, just as you would be with a quantitative goal. If an athlete wants to finish a race in a certain time, he will know approximately how long the swim, bike, run and two transitions need to be in order to accomplish that. You should apply this level of detail to your qualitative goal, too. If the goal is simply to “have fun,” then dig deeper into that idea by identifying what fun means to you in the sport of triathlon. For example, “I will take time in transition to wave to my support team, and get out on the bike without feeling too rushed.” Or, “I will smile while I’m running and say something positive to everyone I pass on the course.” Qualitative goals are all about attitude and mental focus. It’s just as important to measure your success in these areas as it is to know your racing vitals and splits.
Celebrate Small Victories
When you succeed in fulfilling the goals outlined above, then reward yourself! Too often we reserve the right to celebrate for the big goals—finishing the race or breaking a record. Sure, you don’t need to pop open the champagne because you were able to get through a three-hour ride with 12 mini goals, but you should acknowledge your accomplishment in some way. Maybe it’s time to open that nice bottle of wine that’s been sitting in the cellar for a while, or invite some friends over to try a new recipe. By connecting our accomplishments to pleasurable experiences, we reinforce a pattern of behavior that will eventually become second nature.
Focusing on short-term goals with parameters customized to your mental and physical abilities is a great way to train the body/mind connection and help you enjoy the journey in triathlon, not just the destination.