Sunday, January 3, 2016

Knuckling Down

I would like to say that I've set a bunch of lofty, audacious goals for 2016 because #thinkbig #dreamswithdeadlines #etcetc (#vomit). Something I've learned over the last few years, though, is that with something like running, that's tough to do honestly because there are so many stars that have to align in order to accomplish things like PRs and mileage goals, and an individual person can only control so many of them.

The previous organization I worked for was really big on goal-setting. We did a lot of exploration and professional learning around effective and ineffective goal-setting and what kind of goals are actually productive vs. those that mostly just set you up for disappointment, and the professional goals each of us set on our yearly Personal Learning Plans typically went through a couple of different drafts for that reason.

For example, our admissions director had originally set a goal to get x number of applications to our school for next year. But, our ED pointed out that although that would be a fantastic outcome, it was a function of a huge number of variables, many of which were out of her control. She could have done everything in her job 120% perfectly and *still* fallen short, which makes it not very useful as a goal.

So instead, our admissions director changed her goals to be things that she could actually control that supported getting more applications. For example, "Make x number of admissions presentations each month," "Make y new connections with area middle schools," "Carry out z analysis on past application data/acceptances in order to make x changes to our recruitment strategy." etc. etc.

Basically, the number one thing I learned about goal-setting in my last job was that desired outcomes don't make very effective goals. You might achieve it or you might not, but just stating a particular outcome as a goal doesn't make it significantly more likely to happen.

Instead, the most effective goals focus on behaviors that support those desired outcomes--things you can actually control on a day-to-day basis.

What I learned in that job has changed how I think about all kinds of goals, including those related to running, especially what types of goals I set and why. In particular,

  • Setting yearly mileage goals (eg: Run 2016 miles in 2016!!) is not useful to me because it incentivizes doing dumb things like running through suspicious yellow-flag feelings, running longer than planned, or skipping rest days in order to bank miles "just in case."
  • Setting PR goals is not useful to me because, as mentioned above, a PR is the culmination of a huge number of variables (doing your workouts honestly & consistently, choosing the right race, tapering smart, handling nutrition/fueling well, lucking out weather-wise, not getting sick or injured, sleeping well, nailing the mental game, etc.) and you only have control over some of them.
  • Goals like "run x times per week" or "don't skip workouts" or whatever is also useless to me because generally I have a training plan that tells me how many times per week to run and skipping workouts is not a problem I have, short of injury or illness.

Instead, these days my goals are focused on particular behaviors that I can actually do something about on a day-to-day basis. For most of fall, I've just been trying to get my stress fracture healed and not fall into an epic black hole of un-fitness. I really, really hope that I will be and stay healthy as we go into 2016, and that I will be able to train for real & race hard & nail some solid times. That would rock. But, that's going to take a lot of pieces falling into place, only so many of which I can actually do anything about.

So, my goals for the year are really just that: Consistently doing the things that a) support the outcomes I want, and b) I can actually control. Which includes...

#1) Sleep more.
Mainly, going to bed on time. This is absolutely the thing that I am worst at in life in terms of things that support my running. I need to be in bed by 10 on Sundays, Tuesdays, & Thursdays & by 11 on Mondays and Wednesdays, and that is soooooo far from a thing that happens reliably, for no other reason except INTERNETS or TV or UGHHHH TOO TIRED TO GET OFF COUCH. Sleep deprivation is bad for everyone but it's about a billion times worse for athletes, particular those who are injury prone, so really, this should be my highest priority. :-/

The real problem, though, is that I don't have an actual plan for how to solve this problem. It's something I've been working on for like three years and it turns out that, as with most things in life, "just try harder" is not an effective strategy. As my momma taught me, "If you always do what you always did, you'll always get what you always got," so if you have any tips or tricks for getting yourself to bed on time besides "just try harder," I would love to hear them.

#2) Get back to consistent strength & mobility work.
Basically, all of this stuff sort of dwindled over the last couple of months of crazy work travel, holidays, etc. until I essentially gave up completely & just decided to start over in the new year, and believe me, I am definitely feeling it. (I even brought a lacrosse ball with me over the holidays and have touched it precisely zero times.) In addition to making me a better, faster runner because it makes me physically stronger, I know this will also be one of the most important factors in preventing any further injuries. (Also doing whatever they tell me in PT, which I am re-starting on Jan. 12). Ideally I'd be in the gym doing strength work Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings & then doing about half an hour of mobility/stretching on Tuesdays & Thursdays. (FWIW, the number one obstacle to this happening consistently is #1 above.)

(Getting back in the gym consistently should also go a long way toward getting my body composition back to normal, as the pants are feeling a bit snug after said work travel/holidays/precious little running/strength work. The last time I checked I had about 107 lbs of lean mass & I'm usually at my best when I'm upwards of 110-112.)

And that's it.

Obviously, I want to get back to a normal running schedule, race hard, and put up some times I'm proud of. But that all depends on staying healthy, and in terms of what I can control, I think the two things above are kind of the best I can do. (And also, let's be real, plenty to be getting on with.) So that's where I want to focus my energy for at least the next few months.


  1. My goal is pretty basic this year: avoid surgery :)

  2. 'Desired outcomes don't make very effective goals' - I like that.

  3. I like this approach. You're right, desired outcomes probably don't make very effective goals. It's all the things we do to get there that actually make the outcome happen.

    The only possible advice for your 'sleep more' goal I have is the same advice they give parents of infants (about getting your baby to go to bed): have a consistent bedtime routine! I've always wondered if it works for sleepless adults too. Like, cup of tea, brush your teeth, read for half an hour, turn out the light. Eventually you may be so conditioned that the last step in your routine causes you to fall asleep... I'm a fine one to talk though. I basically fall asleep after dinner/ putting the baby to bed, nap for two hours, then am up for another two.

    I, on the other hand, need a workable plan for how not to slack off on strength and mobility work!!!

    1. I think the routine thing is important, and to be honest not something I've tried very hard at. So I should probably give that an honest shot!

    2. Yep, I was going to suggest a routine as well. Two other things that helped me in the past year: (1) resetting my expected bed time from 11:00pm to 9:30pm, because I'm always in bed 30 minutes later than I plan to be, and (2) having T be on a early to bed schedule (which can't always be helped, but it just worked out that way).

  4. I like the idea of choosing goals by thinking about what behaviors will increase the likelihood of your desired outcome occurring.

    I'm there with you on the sleep thing. Have you tried setting an alarm for yourself to go to bed? Say, 45 minutes before your desired bedtime, an alarm goes off basically shaming you into getting ready for bed? Could help.

    1. I feel like this might end up being the first thing I try, since a lot of people seem to do it. Willing to give it a shot!

    2. I was going to suggest the bedtime alarm, too. I also found it helpful to have my phone go into "do not disturb" mode at 9:30 p.m. so that it was one less distraction to keep me awake.

  5. Here, here on the desired outcomes don't (usually) make effective goals, bit. Great framework.

  6. Really great observations & smart goals. I've been experiencing some running setbacks, and you've helped me reframe what I had been thinking of as goal (outcomes) to be something moving towards more positive behaviors.