Sunday, April 26, 2009

Motivation, planning and goal-setting

This week was a particularly challenging week from a work standpoint. Conference calls until 11pm on Monday, 9pm on Wednesday and 9pm on Thursday. Couple that with a few morning meetings, and it was a long week... so how to keep training during a week like that?

For me, the most important thing that I've found is to have a target race that I'm training for. In this case, it's the Eugene marathon, which is coming up in a scant 7 days. But after that, it'll be preparation for the Hulaman Half Ironman in August or the Portland Marathon in October. In 2006, I ran the Portland Marathon 5-miler, and watching the marathoners start their race, I was moved to sign up to run my first marathon in 2007. Having that race on the calendar was very motivating - I always had a goal in front of me. I knew that while I could get lazy and take a day or two off, I also knew that if I fell completely off my training plan, it would jeopardize my marathon goal. I was able to stick to my training plan for a full 12 months. There were a few adjustments along the way as I got smarter about my training, but I managed to stick to basically the same plan over the course of that year.

However, after I ran PDX in October 2007, I let the typical post-marathon rest period turn into an extended excuse for life as a sloth. Sure, I told myself I'd do Portland again in 2008, but I hadn't registered for any major races, and come January 2008, I'd gained 12-13 pounds and had almost zero cardio base. By the time I got around to starting serious training for PDX in June, I ended up trying to play catch up - which of course, resulted in over-training in the form of a nasty case of runner's knee requiring a month and a half rest and three months of physical therapy.

When I started getting back on track with my training in the fall of 2008, I set myself a couple of goals. The first wasn't so much a goal, but a philosophy to live by: I was going to make sure I get a good base in - and keep that base, so not only will I be able to target any race given 2-3 months to train for the distance, but also to ensure that I'm healthy and fit. And then I looked over the calendar and set my major race goals for 2009, to give me something to shoot for: the Hulaman Half Ironman and the Portland Marathon. (I'd also love to do a century ride, but I think I'll leave that one for 2010.)

Once I've committed to the goals, I find that it helps me focus on the training task at hand: whether it be getting in those base miles, increasing distance, or focusing on pace or speed. This focus definitely has paid off so far: the base miles have helped me drop 8-9 of the pounds I regained after the 2007 Portland Marathon, I've dropped my training pace from 9:20ish to 8:30-8:40ish, and by January I had enough base in place that I was able to commit to the Eugene marathon this May. And that feeds the cycle of increasing my focus, so now despite a busy week, I still find/make time to sneak in the shorter mid-week runs.

It does still get pretty tough staying motivated during a 60 hour workweek, though. That's where some advanced planning comes in. My wife is great at this, and I've tried to learn from her: at the beginning of the week, figure out what the week looks like and build a plan that fits with it. If I know that there's no way I'll be able to run on Tuesday, make sure I find the time Monday and Wednesday. If I know that the only time I'd have to run Wednesday is early morning or noon, either make sure I get to bed early on Tuesday or make sure I block out time for the noon run on my calendar. Then it's not so much a matter of motivation and having to figure out what to do, but just doing what has already been planned out.

The concepts of planning and goal-setting are equally relevant in my career and my running. At work, we learn to challenge ourselves (stretch goals) while at the same time making sure what we're planning are SMART goals: specific (what exactly is it that I want to accomplish), measureable (how will I determine whether it is done or not), achieveable (a stretch goal is fine as long as it's realistic), relevant (how does it fit in with my overall objectives) and time-bound (by when do I want to accomplish it). After I've defined a goal, I then put together a project plan to accomplish it. Setting a goal for a specific race, whether it be to just finish or accomplish a specific time, and then defining the training plan, is the fitness equivalent.

Of course, the other thing that helps with motivation is to have an accountability partner. I normally run by myself, so I don't have the benefit of someone waiting on me to start their run. But fortunately, my wife is a great encourager - if I look like I'm not having enough motivation to get out and run on a planned day, she'll say the right things that make it easier to get out and run or even just give me the simple reminder that I have a specific objective coming up. She also helps me stick to my diet a lot better than I would on my own, but that's another story. :)

Planning, goal-setting and accountability partners are the things that help me keep my motivation during the busy times... what are the things that help you out?

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