I had a bit of a conundrum recently. I really wanted to race at Dalby Forest in the National Series on Sunday after a heavy muscular injury approximately four weeks ago. The doctor’s advice was to rest the shoulder for as long as possible – not what I wanted to hear! Like many athletes I find that when I don’t train for a while I start to get difficult and tetchy, especially when I run the risk of missing races that I have had planned in for quite a while.

With having effectively sat out of any training for the last four weeks, I was desperate to race as I really enjoy this particular course and I have a lot of fun on it every year. Naturally, I wanted to ensure that I still had fun. This was compounded as I did not have the fitness to be competitive and I had to adjust my previous target of wanting to finish inside the top 20 at the event. I’m not a fan of targets personally, because of the difference between goals and targets. Knowing the difference can really help you to have a productive and fun race despite everything else that can happen in an event.

So, what is the difference? A target is something to aim for that you really want. This might be winning a race, completing an event or smashing a PB. However, these are often not entirely under your control. Example of this may be winning your National Championships, going under 20 minutes in a 10mile time trial or similar. These just aren’t entirely under your control. Bad weather conditions, mechanical problems or even someone else crashing in front of you can totally scupper your plans. Conversely, goals should always be entirely on you as an athlete. As a coach, I try to encourage my athletes to have up to three goals per race or event. I insist on 5 things that any athlete should do when setting goals:

  1. Make it measurable. Know immediately if you’ve hit it. There should be no woolliness.
  2. State it in the positive. This breeds a positive state of mind and makes it more likely you will achieve it.
  3. Make sure it does not depend on anyone but you. This way it is under your control.
  4. Make your goals challenging. Make sure they stretch you or push you out of your comfort zone.
  5. Make them realistic. It’s good to have lofty ambitions, but if they are not achievable then they are a waste of time.

For Dalby, I set myself the following 3 goals;

  1. Complete the long fireroad climb every lap in under 4 minutes,
  2. Ride the technical singletrack climb from top to bottom every lap with no dabs,
  3. Ride the technical Medusa’s Drop A-Line every lap.

It should be clear to see that each of the three goals were within my control – they didn’t depend on other riders, they were obvious when I ticked them off and they were challenging (for me at least!). It turned out that after all that, I snapped a chain on the first lap and the rest of the field rode away from me. However, despite losing 6 minutes, I still continued the race. My target (as mentioned previously) was to finish in the top 20. After a chain snap and with no race-specific fitness, this was simply unobtainable due to something outside of my control.

By using the above technique, I still felt I was able to have an excellent race as I completed all three goals confidently and had a lot of fun too!

Finally, don’t forget to actually evaluate your goals after the race, and this is the crucial aspect which can massively help your training – did you hit your goals? If not, why not? What could you do so you could hit them next time? If you did, could you set more challenging goals in the future?

Make sure you discuss your goals with someone else too. They can often give insight to your performance that you may not have thought about!

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