On Setting Targets and Keeping Going

It is that time of the year – Christmas is over and the New Year is in sight – time to make the resolutions and make some changes in your life.  But so many fall by the wayside – how can you set yourself a target and make it stick?  This is a blog about running and running targets – and maybe other targets as well.

In 2014 I ran the Brighton Marathon.  Aged 55 and having just retired from my job in the NHS I needed something to aim for.  The last year at work had been horrible – the service I worked for had been out to tender and then taken over by another Trust.  Cost savings were being made and senior staff were expensive – so I retired rather than be made redundant.  After 32 years in the Service my new manager didn’t even learn my name.  I needed something to aim for and a marathon seemed like a good idea – well I had spent the last 10 years saying “I’ll never run a marathon” – so I thought I’d shake things up a bit.  I talked Julie (my long standing and very patient running buddy) into it as well and we started training.  Sadly Julie didn’t get very far into the training before she started to struggle with her health and had to give up …….. so I went it alone………….. week after week of gradually extending my long runs – 16, 18, 20, 21 miles until I was ready for the day.  And I managed it – 26.2 miles in 4 hours 47 mins – I still count it as one of the greatest achievements in my life.

But it is what happened afterwards that was shocking – I just lost my running mojo…………….  Okay it takes a little while to recover physically from a marathon – but nobody talks about how you recover your passion for running again.  I struggled on from week to week – a short run here and there – but never got back into the rhythm.  I even ran a couple of half marathons – Tonbridge in September 2014 and the off road Weald Challenge in May 2015 – but with little enthusiasm.  In fact I’d have given up in the Weald Challenge if I could have found a marshall to give me a lift……………  What had happened?  It was like the marathon had drained my will to run.  Was I too old?  Too weak?  Too rubbish at running? Had the target just been too big?  I know now that it wasn’t just me.  I have met so many people since who have run a marathon and then…………. Just stopped! At least I kept going……… sort of……………….

And I have chatted at races to people who don’t reach their target.  Someone I know wanted to run a half marathon in less than 2 hours.  She finished in 2 hours and 2 minutes – was she disappointed? – she told me “I ran as hard as a could – how can I be disappointed?  And anyway the target is still there for next time………..”  Which got me thinking about the whole nature of targets and what happens when you achieve them and have nothing else to aim for.

In my (non running) life I am often involved in helping parents to change their children’s behaviour.  I help them to set targets that are clear (it’s no good asking a 5 year old to “be well behaved”), achievable (it’s not good aiming for perfection when just getting breakfasted and to school is a battle), are rewarded immediately (with praise and attention and small treats), involve fun (children get bored easily) and become part of a way of life (you can’t just “fix” children’s behaviour – it’s all about the way a family works together).  Would these principles work for other targets…… my training tells me they should………

So two years on – when Julie came back to me and suggested that we have another go at running the marathon together in 2016 – I approached it rather differently.  I loved the training the first time around with a goal every week gradually building and moving forward.  And the marathon was not my only target for 2016 – but part of “A year of Running” – the marathon was not the “be all and end all” –  just one of the races – all important in their own right as well as part of the whole.  In 2016 I have run one marathon (PB), three half marathons (PB), one 10 miler, four 10k and one 5k.  And I’ve been part of the Heathfield Road Runners women’s team who ended up placed 3rd in the Sussex Grand Prix.

How do the principles apply?  Well the races were clear targets; they were all achievable – but did require some hard work to make them happened; they were rewarded immediately (I do love a medal) and the fun came from running with Julie and as part as HRR.  I’m back to running being part of my life.  My targets won’t work for everyone………… we are all different and that is the point.  But maybe try out the principles and see whether they work for you in 2017.

And my target for 2017?  Well that would be a half marathon every month with the lovely Gill B – watch this space to see how we get on…………………

2 thoughts on “On Setting Targets and Keeping Going”

  1. Thanks for reposting, Gwyn. The problem with targets is that everyone says they should be attainable; okay, a stretch, but just about attainable. It sounds as though you chose an attainable target and then fell into a ‘slough of despond’ because you’d got there. There wasn’t anything more to do. My own running career has barely ticked over the two years mark and I cannot therefore impart words of wisdom, but several folks whose opinion I value tell me to stop setting targets. Instead, just go for a run. You really don’t even need much of a destination or idea of a route until well after you have set off. Then follow your nose. If there’s a decent view, stop to admire it. You might spot an unusual flower or run by a garage selling classic cars, so wander over and admire the metal!

    Because I am really new to this running lark, I am still addicted to setting little targets for myself: can I manage a PB between those lamp-posts? If I run another half marathon, will I be able to beat the two hour mark? (I also failed by two minutes earlier this year). Note I write ‘…failed by two minutes’. As a (i) competitive person and (ii) a bloke, I want to WIN. Which might mean besting the person with whom I run in a sprint for the finish or just myself when I ran that route before. ‘If it’s not on Strava, it didn’t happen’. The difficulty (and I recognise it as a difficulty) is that for me, unless I make progress, do better, go faster …then I cannot be satisfied.

    Well, that’s what I thought until an occasion when I just couldn’t get my Garmin GPS watch to log on. I don’t know what the problem was, but it couldn’t line up enough satellites or something, so I had to go for my run without knowing exactly where I’d gone and how long I’d taken – and it was a minor revelation! Because I couldn’t obsess about time and speed, I could ‘only’ enjoy the act of running. And so simple addiction to Runners’ High gets me putting on shorts and running shoes again and again.

    I still check my times, but honestly don’t mind if I was slower. I went for a run! Might this help?

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  2. Hi Richard – Thanks for your thoughts – I like them and agree about the whole notion of running without targets too! For me it’s about finding something that works – times don’t bother me that much (I don’t think I’ll ever beat my 10K PB for example – getting too old now) – but I do like the taking part and running with other people. So it’s more the being there that works for me. Many of my runs have no specific target – but I do find I like doing them in the context of preparing for the next event – hence the race a month next year. I am also competitive and like to push myself – but I think I also tend to laziness and need something to get out there for……………. A mass of contradictions – but I can live with that!! Keep on running!

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