Thursday, April 21, 2016

Motivation and goal setting

My Hapalua Half Marathon started off well enough but did not end well. By the time I got to the hill at mile nine my right calf was cramping. I hoped that it would recover if I walked up the hill, but no such luck. The last four miles were mostly walking. I did run, as much as I could, but the most I could do was a hundred yards at a time.

The realization that I was not going to make my plan, much less set a new PR, was not much of a disappointment. Why? Because this was only a "B" race for me. My "A" race this spring is Honu, the Ironman Hawaii 70.3 triathlon in June.

To prepare for the Hapalua I blended a "stock" base plan with a half marathon run plan. By race day I knew I had done plenty of long run miles, but not enough at the pace I wanted to try. By mile two I knew I did not have the speed to set a PR, but I did not care. I was running well, just not fast. I felt rested and strong. Making my plan was a no-brainer. Until the wheels came off. When that happened I knew my fuel and hydration plan were fine -- I still felt reasonably good and wanted to run -- and that I had the core endurance, built up by all those long, slow runs. It was just too early in my half Ironman plan to be doing the kind of tempo runs necessary to run at a half marathon pace. My calf muscles lacked the endurance.

Just the other day I noticed myself using my goal of doing Honu for motivation. For everything from getting up in the morning to getting to swim practice, from riding up Tantalus to finishing a hard strength training set. "If you expect to finish Honu you have to get through this."

Having a really big goal race is definitely motivating, but thinking of it this way can transform it into a monster. You know what I am talking about. The closer the event comes the greater the cold, sweaty fear that grips your innards whenever you think about it. You ask yourself, "What was I thinking?" Triathlon magnifies the effect because we start with the swim. Few things are more likely to trigger a genuine sense of panic than to feel unprepared while waiting to swim in the open ocean.

My Hapalua did not create that kind of pressure because it really did not matter to me.  I know it did to plenty of other people. Those were the ones who dreaded walking to the start line, waiting for the gun to off, and worried sick that their wheels might fall off the way mine did.

A proven method to counter such performance anxiety is to stay focused on the present, on what is really happening right now and not what might happen next month, next week, or even a few minutes from now. "Be here now." I never read Ram Dass but I did pick up that phrase somewhere.

Another thought I find useful, which I learned from Coach Celeste St. Pierre, is "No time traveling." We all allow ourselves to drift into a fantasy land in which we imagine ourselves doing whatever it is we are interested in doing. This is fine if, say, you are hungry and imagine yourself eating a delicious meal. Not so great if you have invited friends over for dinner and keep imagining yourself burning dinner. The rule, seems to me, for most athletes is that we imagine a good outcome when the race is way off in the future, but the closer it gets, the more we imagine ourselves burning the pot roast.

It is here I have a quandary. Reminding myself that I am doing whatever unpleasant thing I happen to be suffering through because I am doing Honu seems like a wonderful motivator, yet to place so much importance on that one event is likely to produce a frightening monster.

Here is my proposed solution. In the spirit of staying in the present, how about setting smaller, short-range goals? Make each goal desirable, but not so significant that failure to achieve it will leave me feeling like a total failure. I already have goals for every workout, so how about goals for each week? Too frequent? Each month, then.

TrainingPeaks used to have this feature, but when they overhauled the user interface, weekly goals was one feature not carried over. The good news is that this feature is back, and even better than before. Any day can have goals attached to it, just like workouts, metrics, and events. The way I see it, each entry represents a deadline. If my goal is to increase my FTP, I create a goal for that on the day I want to achieve it by. Each goal has a checkbox you can check when you reach it. Too soon to say what happens to checked goals; perhaps they collect in a "completed goals" list somewhere.

I think decoupling goals from events is a good thing. Sure, I ought to have goals for a race. It is a normal part of any race plan. But leaning on the one "A" race every time I need a little motivation could backfire. Better to remind myself that the reason I am swimming in the rain is to achieve my goal of getting my pace down to 2:10/100 yards by May 15th.

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