Should you set realistic goals?

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For many people, a great help in working towards their goals is to publicly state the goal.  You’ve now told other people “Hey, I’m going to do this.”  And that means that someone is probably watching to see if you make that goal.  I’ve seen a lot of this lately, but what worries me is that people are setting unrealistic goals.

“I’m going to shave an hour off my marathon time and qualify for Boston in the next 6 months.”

“I’m going from couch potato to IRONMAN this year!”

And let’s not talk about the people in various Facebook running groups who think you don’t have to train to do a half marathon.  (Spoiler alert, you do need to train.)

Why?  Why do people set totally unrealistic goals?

Please note that in the examples I gave, the time limit is really what makes the goal ridiculous.  Can someone shave an hour off their marathon time?  It’s possible.  Definitely depends on the person and all, but sure, it can be done.  Can it be done in 6 months?  Well, if the person was running their current marathons on very little training and poor planning, and then suddenly stuck to a solid plan, maybe.  But I think those cases are the outliers.  In general, no.  You won’t shave an hour off your marathon time and get to BQ pace in 6 months.

And Couch to IRONMAN in under a year?  Why?  First off, maybe try a sprint or an Oly first, see if you like it.  I’m sure there are people who have done an IM as their first tri, but those people likely come in as already skilled marathoners.  I know people who made a 70.3 their first race, and those people were great runners who understood the need to commit to a training plan.

I don’t understand why people do this.  Attention, most likely.  But why set yourself up for failure? Why not pick a more reasonable goal?

You hear a lot of talk about SMART goals.  SMART goals are


So maybe “Someday, I will do a 140.6” isn’t a SMART goal because it’s not time bound.  But how about “I will do a 140.6 in the next five years?”  (Note: I will not do a 140.6 in the next five years because I don’t want to.)

The big key here is attainable.  What is the point of a completely unattainable goal?  Oh, sure, there’s the quote “Shoot for the moon.  If you miss, you’ll land among the stars.”  And to a point, that’s true.  I believe in doing things that scare you, not just things you know you can do.  I have friends who have previously only done 70.3 races with a 9 hour time limit who have signed up for races with an 8.5 hour time limit this year.  They need to shave a number of minutes off their finish time, but they’ve dedicated themselves to the goal, and it’s definitely attainable.  Could they not make it?  Sure, that’s always possible.  But cutting 20ish minutes off of a 70.3 finish time in a year is definitely attainable.

Plus I have to wonder what it does to your spirit and enthusiasm if you’re constantly setting unattainable goals for yourself.  If it were me, I would just want to give up. Why set yourself up for failure?

Pick realistic goals and aim for them.  And then celebrate when you make it.

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