This is the time when a lot of us are thinking about our running goals for the new year. Maybe you have a big race in mind, or you want to be more consistent in your training. Maybe you’re struggling because you feel as though you “should” have a goal, but don’t.
Steve Picucci has coached hundreds of runners, many of whom have won championship titles and achieved their personal bests under his guidance – including Tina, who also happens to be his wife. In this episode they share their thoughts on setting goals, the way they shift over time, and how they might not always be what you imagine.
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Tina: “…those of you who say, ‘I have this really big goal that I want to accomplish,’ or ‘I really want to make this year count,’ or ‘this has to be the year I do X, Y, Z,’ whatever that may be, when we think of our running in those terms, we’re kind of setting ourselves up for failure.”
For one thing, she says, “the fun is sucked right out of it.” Unless you’re a professional runner, by putting those pressures on yourself, you’re taking something that should be an escape and a joy and making it one more stressor in your life.
When you place a time limit on achieving something, or take the Eminem-like approach that a particular race is your “one shot,” you’re putting yourself in a position where it’s unlikely that you’ll reach your goal, and even if you do, you’ll have missed out on so much along the way.
As Tina says, “We already walk the line between commitment and obsession as runners, and I really think that having that need to commit pushes us over into the part of obsession.”
Steve: “I always tell the athletes I work with that a lot of the stuff we do outside of the running is just as important or more important than the actual running you do.”
The obsession with achieving a goal leads many runners to get so wrapped up in specific aspects of training that they neglect other parts. They get injured or don’t recover sufficiently to reap the benefit of their workouts because they’re overtraining, and as Steve observes, “people just kind of miss the fact that one of the most important things is you’ve got to be consistent and you’re never going to be consistent if you’re overtraining.”
Steve: “It’s okay to have that big, top-step goal, but you’ve got to focus on the little goals, the intermediate steps, to get to that big goal.”
Runners often focus so narrowly on one big goal that they don’t appreciate the smaller steps along the way and give themselves credit for accomplishing them. Those steps don’t have to be time goals; they could be remaining consistent with your strength training or foam rolling. A goal doesn’t always have to be a number.
Steve: “You’ve got to figure out where your passions are and what you want to do and then also evaluate where your commitment is.”
One key element to achieving a big goal is being realistic about it. You have to be honest with yourself not only in terms of if you have the physical ability, but if you have the resources. Do you have the time to devote to it?
Steve: “I think modifying [a goal] is a little bit of a hard thing because you want to keep that big dream goal, but I think it’s okay to have a different route you can take, as well.”
Maybe your goal is to qualify for Boston, but you can’t quite meet the standard. Might you be able to do it in a couple of years when you’re in a new age group, or in a better position to do the necessary training?
Maybe you’re a masters runner and your fastest times are behind you. You have to “not forget the past, but not compare to it, just like you don’t want to compare yourself to every elite athlete or every high-level Olympian.”
Steve also points out that “a goal doesn’t have to be tied to a time or even a race.” It doesn’t have to be something that’s obvious to other people; it just has to mean something to you.
Goals aren’t the only things that might need to be modified. When you know what you should be doing to achieve your goals but you’re not doing it, Steve recommends asking yourself, “What’s the one thing I can do today to help me down the path to get back to that?”.
Most importantly, “If you don’t get everything right, don’t beat yourself up about it.”
Tina: “I just want to remind you that even if things seem to be falling apart right now, even if you’re not managing to do what you want to do and it’s looking like once again you’re letting yourself and everyone else down, you are not. You’re out there doing it, even if it’s not as much as you’d like. You are doing something that most of the population is not, and accomplishments and successes don’t make you who you are.”
Tina’s interview with Mary Cain
Mile 20 Mental Training Course
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“Thank you” to Steve. We look forward to hearing your thoughts on the show.