In my final year as a Queen’s commerce student, my time was consumed with school, extracurriculars, and of course, landing a coveted job offer.
Having made it out of recruiting season with an amazing job, I had more time on my hands than ever in the past four years.
I set my sights on a new personal fitness challenge for 2014.
Here’s how I successfully set and achieved my goal of completing my first half marathon, all while making the big school-to-career transition.
1. Write it down
“It’s a dream until you write it down, and then it’s a goal.” – Anonymous
I have always wanted to run in an organized race. It’s something I had talked about and thought about, but never actually taken steps toward doing.
In April, I decided I was going to complete a half marathon by the end of the year. My dream only became a bona-fide goal when I registered for the Toronto Waterfront Half Marathon and wrote it on my calendar for October 19, 2014.
Suddenly something I had only ever thought about doing had a concrete deadline, and writing it somewhere I could see it every day gave me a sense of urgency to actually take steps to achieve it.
2. Turn big goals into “bite-sized” goals
It’s easy to get intimidated by a big goal, and if your goal seems too far out of reach, you’re more likely to throw in the towel early. You need to break your goal down into a few “bite-sized” goals so they are easier to tackle.
As a total newcomer to running, I knew that I would need to build up slowly to the daunting 21.1km distance. I set mini goals of 5, 10, 15 and 20 km – with the objective of being able to run each distance continuously at a certain goal pace.
To keep myself motivated, I signed up for multiple races throughout the process and recruited some friends to join me.
Having a goal to reach every couple of weeks rather than just one big one at the end kept me focused, motivated, and gave me a great sense of fulfillment each time I finished a race.
3. Create a scalable action plan
After researching what felt like hundreds of training plans, I combined the best parts of each one to make my own.
When creating my action plan, I considered two things – my “must-dos” and my “should-dos”. My “must-dos” were the minimum inputs required to achieve each mini goal I set. I knew that in order to achieve my desired result for each race, I needed to complete 3 core runs each week – especially my weekly long run. Speed work, yoga and strength training were all important parts of my action plan, but these were my “should-dos”.
Knowing which parts of my plan were absolutely essential and which parts were more flexible allowed me to easily balance my competing priorities from school, work, family and friends.
I could ramp up my training to 6 days a week when I had the time, and during busy weeks I could focus on my core runs while having peace of mind that I could miss a few peripheral workouts without hindering my progress.
4. Track your progress
There are hundreds of tools to help you manage your goal action plan.
Whether you use an app, a website, or good old pen and paper, make sure you schedule your “must-dos” and your “like-to-dos” in intervals of time that makes sense (I planned workouts each week), and check them off as you complete them.
I opted for a combination of an app (I used the Nike+ Running app) and my pen and paper calendar. I wrote down each week’s worth of workouts on a piece of paper, and then slotted them into the empty spots on my calendar.
Using this approach gave me a line of sight to what I needed to accomplish each week, and allowed me to optimize how I combined workouts and rest days with the rest of my schedule.
This prevented me from having to cram runs in at the end of the week to reach mileage goals, or accidentally schedule a long run the night before a big meeting. The app helped me track information like distance, average pace, splits, and how I felt during each run to help me keep track of upward or downward trends as I progressed.
5. Stay accountable
To tell, or not to tell?
That is the question. Numerous studies show that telling people about your goals makes you more likely to achieve them. On the flip side, Derek Sivers offers a compelling argument for keeping your goals to yourself in his well-known TED Talk.
He explains that people often get enough satisfaction from simply telling people you are going to do something, and the positive reaction it elicits, which ultimately reduces their motivation to actually pursue the goal.
Personally, I decided to declare my goals loud and proud.
Public accountability was an extremely powerful motivator for me, and the support of friends and family was essential to keep me on track. Going public with my plans kept me honest with myself about how much effort I was actually putting in.
6. Celebrate, reflect, repeat
This year I have gone from a total non-runner to completing a half marathon.
I have run in six organized races in total, and logged over 700 kilometres. It’s important to celebrate successes, but it’s even more important to use each success to fuel the next one so you can continue to grow and improve.
There is great value in a formal reflection process so you can harness the learnings from your experience and use them for your next challenge.
After a celebratory post-race brunch with my family, I sat down and reflected on my training and performance. I wrote down the top 5 things I did right, and the top 5 things I did wrong, and I am incorporating all of the information into my new training program.
While I am definitely proud of my accomplishments this year, I know I still have miles to go in order to reach my goal time for my next half marathon in March 2015. I can’t wait!