We are deep into the winter running season now in Scotland. The ultra-calendar being a 12 month thing these days, it’s hard to see this as the “off season” but for me it is. After 3x 100 mile+ efforts this year – amongst other events – I enjoyed backing off a bit to recharge both body and mind and am now just getting back to “normal” training. Most runners will be using the period to recover from a long season, or get some base miles to be ready for the year ahead.
Many of us use the calendar as an arbitrary tool in which to time-frame our goals. We talk of seasons in terms of January to December and set up our plans around that. Almost all runners I know – from amateur to elite – set goals for the season ahead. That could be breaking 4 hours for a marathon for your recreational runner right to championship cycle planning for Olympians.
When we set goals it immediately sets in motion a conflict in our minds. The battle between the conscious and subconscious mind. Think New Year’s resolution. It consciously starts off with great intentions but the subconscious mind is generally what draws us to temptation to break that resolution.
I like to think of it as the subconscious mind is more attuned protecting and pleasing us. It’s also where excuses are generated. Giving up chocolate for a few days is easy to do but eventually the subconscious throws enough of that pleasing temptation our way to make us slip.
When it comes to running and training it is much the same. The trick here is to retrain the subconscious. It has a massive influence on our impulsive actions and what motivates us. To truly realise change you first have to recognise and then influence your subconscious.
A number of mechanisms I use for this are to work backwards from a goal and to play out what if scenarios in my mind. Then, I have a longer-term plan. Not a rolling 12 months but something that stretches out beyond the immediate future.
At the start of each year I map out a series of primary and secondary goals. Some will be achievement related. In December 2015 I wrote “podium at West Highland Way race in 2016, looking to compete to win in 2017”. As it was I won it in 2016. I’d also written “achieve qualification standard for GB 24 hour team” with a view to getting picked for 2017 World Champs. These were my primary goals. The things that would stretch me and make me proud. I had a heap of secondary, supporting goals.
I achieved them and more. By writing them down I first sharpened what I wanted to do and then followed up by convincing my subconscious that it would please me to work towards this and that it was important to me. Here’s some tips for how I set and go after goals:
- I sit down and review what I wanted to achieve each year and beyond then assess how I got on with the previous year’s aims. I look at what is still on there and whether they are still important
- I always put new goals in there. Not rolling targets and aims but new and stretching targets. Things I won’t always hit but are a challenge enough to take me out of my comfort zone and always support my primary aims
- I make things diverse. I have 1 mile, 5k and 100 mile targets! I have lots of little, secondary goals can help keep motivation high
- I am open to amending my goals. And that could be up or down. For example, I won’t put my health at risk and also opportunities may land that mean I have to go after them at short-notice to the detriment of something else
- I share the journey. I love to bring people with me. Whether an adventure together, part of my crew or even just being there with others, the community aspect of running is so important to me. So, I have a community of friends and family who are an amazing source of inspiration
- I write it all down and I look at it regularly. Both to remind and inspire me
- I do what matters. And I define what matters. And with that I am in control
Focusing the mind on what matters by defining what matters yourself is perhaps the most important thing to take away here. You are the author of your own future, so long as you chose to accept the position and the opportunity it gives. It will require a modicum of sacrifice, a modicum of selfishness but that modicum x2 will result in a massive amount of satisfaction.
Go set those goals. Stretch yourself. Rewire your subconscious. Achieve things greater than you thought possible. Now where did I put my 2017 aims…? It’s time to refresh for 2018 and beyond.