Monday, 19 October 2009

A clear lack of goals...

(Note: Sorry for the slight delay this week, I got caught up in a rather excting new writing project (all will be revealed soon) and had to put things on hold for a few hours. Still, better late than never...)

Well, maybe not a lack of goals... just a complete change in thinking as to what they are. Let me explain...

For quite a while now I've wondered about the possibility that I somehow manage to limit my performances through my goals. At first glance running a 2:58 marathon when your target is three hours or doing a 9:28 Ironman when the aim is to break 9:30 can seem like a success (especially when like me you used to be a lazy, overweight, binge drinking Brit), and for several years now I've enjoyed pb after pb. But, and this year convinced me, it can become all too easy to do just enough to hit your target yet fall short of your true potential. What this year has also taught me is that no matter what time I do in a particular event, I'm only truly happy when I feel I've given my absolute best. When I say 'best' I mean from the start of training to crossing the finish line and to be brutally honest I don't feel I managed that for any of my 2009 events. Before I get buried under an avalanche of 'people like you will never be completely happy with your performances' let me provide you with a few examples where I've walked away elated knowing that I'd just given my best...
  • My first ever marathon - in 1999 as a somewhat overweight student I gave up the booze in January and gave everything I could for 15 weeks before perfectly pacing a 3:53 marathon (1:57/1:56) and crossing the line totally spent.
  • My first crack at breaking three hours for the 26.2 - several years later I lined up on the start line of the Lausanne marathon having run more training miles than ever before (or since), went through half in 1:30 and then promptly exploded at around the 20 mile mark. It took everything to hang on to some kind of speed and falling (literally) over the line in 3:10 I lost all use of my legs (literally) for several hours.
  • Ironman Germany 2008 - Despite blowing up well before the end of the bike and missing my overall time goal by over 30 minutes, as well as maybe making a few mistakes in training such as neglecting my cycling in favour of running. I honestly absolutely gave everything through every week of training and gave more to that nine hours and 59 minutes of racing than any race ever before (or since).
I could go on, but for me those three events are prime examples of focusing 100% on the process from start to finish (training & the race). The second two are probably my proudest achievments in sport, note that I missed my desired outcome in both, and great examples of true happiness coming from the process rather than the outcome. Yes, I missed my target but I went for it 100% and walked away knowing that I had given my all. I'm much happier about my 9.59 at Germany than my 9.28 in Switzlerand!

This year I went into both my Ironman events a good few kilos heavier than I would like to have been, I knew that having not taken part in a running race since January I was well short of my 2008 run form and set my race gear up somewhat conservatively... all of this 'knowing' that it would be 'enough' to hit my pre-race goals. In Lanzarote that complacency dropped me right in it when the run got tasty and in Switzerland I was the victim of measuring my efforts (training more than racing) against what I thought others would achieve. At the beginning of the season I wrote on here about getting back to really hurting in races and truly giving it my all, I maybe got close to that in terms of painful races but at the same time constant analysis of my training and racing performances, although accurate lead me to fall somewhat short of what on reflection I know I can achieve.

This next 12 months is likely to be my final Iron year, and I know (absolutely) that I can go a lot faster than ever before if I can just stop focusing on the outcome and concentrate on the process. To put that in context, I would have thought that to qualify for Hawaii would take just under ten hours in Lanzarote, to break ten hours in Lanza would be a dream come true regardless and having gone 10:20 this year it would be a big step forwards... a success? Maybe not... the problem is that by concentrating on the outcome, I'm forgetting what it is that will see me sign off from mdot a happy man... the feeling of having given everything (truly) to the process... regardless of the outcome. The truth is you see that I'd rather give everything and go 10:30 (missing Kona) than just do 'enough', break ten and book my place at the Big Dance. The danger of setting the sub-10 target is that the second I feel I'm in shape to do just that I'll back it off and cruise to the start line.

A great example of this happened last week when I did my first timed mile for ages. My previous pb was 23:38 and I was over the moon to stop the clock in 23:52... the problem is that almost instantly I felt myself feeling complacent about my swim ability and losing the drive to spend a long winter flogging myself in the pool. Why bother, afterall I'm ahead of this time last year and should easily do 'enough' to swim my target time?

So this year is going to be completely devoid of time related goals, there will be NO TARGET TIMES... yes I'll measure what I do but that will only serve to confirm forward motion. I intend to push as hard as I can from now through till Lanzarote and beyond, be as dedicated as possible, as strong as possible, as light as possible, as fast as possible and race as hard as possible. Whatever the outcome of that process is then that will be the outcome... nothing more. But I will walk away from Ironman happy that for once in my life I've put everything on the line and given my absolute best.

Today's image is current World Ironman Champion Craig Alexander who summed it up perfectly in the post-race press conference in Kona, note there is no mention of time or position (outcome), it's all about a 'good performance' (process)...

“There were a lot of bad patches today. Last year to win was exciting but this year is more rewarding because it was a different race. It was a harder race. This year I had to work at it and chip away for every mile on the bike and the run.”

“There are some great bike riders in our group. I felt the pace was slid early. I got dropped two or three times on the way up to Hawi. The thing is, my main focus was just to give a good title defense and put in a performance I could be proud of.”

“I didn’t attack [Lieto] I just found a rhythm. But I didn’t feel that fluid motion I felt last year. Today I felt like I had to work for every second.”

“I think a lot about my family out there. They sacrifice a lot for me; we travel a lot. I certainly feel, not a pressure or obligation, but a duty to the people who make my career possible. I don’t want to let them down. It’s nice to give something back with a good performance.”

(Quote borrowed from Simon Whitfield HERE)

Hold on to your hats,



Rogier, Natalie & Rhys said...

Good luck with this approach it is a mental state more than anything else. I do not profess to be half the athlete that you are, however, I would like to welcome you to my world of exercise. No I don't do the hours that you do and no I do not train for IMs or anything else for that matter. And that is exactly my point I just train to go flat out every time I hit the gym or the pool. Obviously I pace out the session, because I have to get to the end, however at the end I am spent and that is my daily target, to get to the showers afterwards with that feeling of I have given it my all. So all there is left to say is... go hard and than go harder!

Jevon said...

Hi mate
I'm taking a similar approach. I call it 'demystification'. Just work hard, push yourself and get into the best shape you can based on the knowledge we've amassed over the past few years.
Let it rip, baby.

lord_lordy said...


I think this is a great move. Goals can be so limiting... I've said it numerous times.
As for not timing thing. I gave up accurately timing my training (except on very specific rare occasions) year ago as I felt racing myself all the time is unhealthy. Who's to say which session is best - the one that was hard work and you were slower verses the one that was easy and faster. Often it's just a sign of what training you've been doing and how tired you are.
If you have any goals - aim high.Podium at Lanza for instance - with that the rest would take care of itself.
Enjoy the process then racing and any success that follows is just the gravy (or custard).
BTW - Kona this year was my slowest Ironman but one of my proudest finishes.

Tom said...

Hi guys,

Thanks for the great comments...


Your training reports are becoming stuff of legend... I may need to publish the most recent one! Seriously though, your levels of determination inspire me more than you can imagine... event from the other side of the world my Thursday morning swim is always max'd out in true Roger style ;)


I love your choice of word (as usual)... the thought of getting the the end of a season knowing 'that was absolutely it, everything' is really quite appealing. I doubt many ever manage it, and I certainly haven't... maybe this year ;)


I absolutely love the honesty of your blog and take a huge amount of inspiration from the way you challenge yourself on an almost daily basis. You've written before about people holding back so that if they don't achieve they then have a reason other than 'they just weren't good enough'... this fear of 'what if I'm just not up to it' is I'm sure a common limiter and likely has been for me in the past. Hopefully, in 12 months time I'll know just how good I am? I'm working very hard to remove any kind of time / outcome goal from the year ahead, in fact there's a thing on tritalk where I've said I'll go sub-10 in Lanza and I keep meaning to change it. I intend to give everything to everything, focus on the process and let the rest take care of itself. I will still time/measure the majority of my sessions, not with any goal time in mind but just to ensure that I'm still moving forward although saying that I will promise to regularly run and bike with no watch (done both this week). As for podium at Lanza, I don't even want to say that, for if there comes a moment when I feel I'm there I'll back it off - and who's to say I might not win my age-group if I keep pushing at that moment! What was your Lanza bike split again? Like I don't know ;) Seriously though, thanks as always for the support and inspiration. If I can match your levels of drive, focus and determination then 2010 could be pretty special ;)

Speak soon all,