Which comes first, the training or the goal?

This question stems from a conversation I had with a friend last weekend over coffee. At the beginning of December I was diagnosed with a stress fracture in my foot and had to take 6 weeks away from running. Not ideal. Even less ideal when 4 weeks into a 16 week cycle, it’s still affecting my build up to the London marathon in April. We’d been talking about my injury and the question he asked was ‘so, what’s your goal for London?’

At the time, my answer was a casual ‘hopefully I’ll get round’. Then, later the same day, I was looking back at my instagram and came across this picture of me running on the beach in the build up to Edinburgh marathon last year.

I’d missed the first 4 weeks of yet another marathon build up due to injury. Are you seeing a theme here?? To be honest, I’m wondering if that HORRENDOUS heel strike might be partly to blame!!! But that’s a topic for another day. The point is, that I was 8 weeks out from Edinburgh marathon, my A-race for the year, and I had no idea whether I would even make it to the start line.

It’s an exact replica of my current situation. When I posted that photo, I had NO idea that only 8 weeks later I would somehow smash out a London good for age 3 hours 38 mins. 20 minutes quicker than my PB at the time!

So that begs the question, at what point do you set your goals?

Until now, I’ve always started a cycle with a goal in mind. For example, my goal for Edinburgh was a sub 3.45. I found a sub 3.45 training programme, and off I went. When I got injured and it didn’t go to plan, I just gave up because there was no plan B. Now, in hindsight, although I didn’t do much running early on, my final two long runs were both 20 milers at 3.40 pace. At that point, I should have realised that I was back on track. Luckily, on the day, I went with how I was feeling and it paid off. But if I’d have stuck to just wanted to get round and eased off the first few miles, I’d never have achieved what I was actually capable of.

In hindsight, it seems ludicrous to set a goal before you’ve got some idea of what you can achieve. Sure, I know what my marathon PB is, but that was set 8 months ago now. It shows what I could do in the past, not what I can do now. I might not be in good enough shape to run that fast. Equally I might limit myself by holding back when I’m capable of more (here’s hoping!) I’ve see so many runners fall short of their own expectations this way. And at times, I’ve certainly been one of them.

A different way of thinking…

So with London I’m trying a new approach. One that makes far more sense to me. My goals will be determined once I’ve completed my training. When I have the objective evidence to tell me what is likely to be realistic. Otherwise, it’s not much different to window shopping. In theory, you can chose anything you like.

Am I still aiming for a Boston qualifier of sub 3.30? Absolutely. But will it be in London? I honestly don’t know yet. Ask me once I’ve completed this training block and I’ll let you know! One thing I do know, is that exploring what you’re capable of, is far less stressful than pushing for something that is out of reach. And I for one, run far better when the pressure is off.

How do you set your running goals?







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