Effective Goal Setting for 2017 and Beyond

A new year is a great time to set new goals or reinvigorate old ones. The “New Year’s resolution” wouldn’t be such a cliché if there wasn’t something useful in it, right? Well, as it turns out, the majority of people aren’t always right.

In this first of a series of posts, I’ll discuss my thoughts on why we make New Year’s resolutions, types of goals, and good vs. bad goals.

Why?

The calendar is a cultural construct of sorts. There is no astronomical significance to the end/beginning of the year; no line crossed, no cosmic “ding” when the earth completes another turn around the sun. On the other hand, at least in the northern hemisphere, we are crossing into the winter months just days before the old year expires. There’s probably a numerology aspect in play here here too – humans love big round numbers. Nobody says “hey, 0.8743 of the year has passed – it’s time to make some changes!”

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The combination of the turn of the page, the approaching months of cold and relative isolation indoors, and the recent memory of the various excesses of the holiday season makes the New Year a perfect time to re-prioritize and rededicate. Better to do it right away than after the period of hibernation ends!

Types of Goals

Your goals may be centered on work, family, personal relationships, spiritual development, or fitness.There are many types of goals, even if you narrow the field to running. Psychologically, your goals derive from various directions – what motivates you to run, your prior experience both good and bad, and peer interaction. Categories that seem touchy-feely at first blush may still have both objective and subjective measures. In any event, specific goals are more likely to produce the desired result (e.g. lose 10 pounds vs. lose weight). Goals with both short and long time horizons can be valuable – and while long range planning is important, it’s more effective when a long range goal is broken up into shorter goals that can be reached sooner.

“Good” vs. “Bad” Goals

This is value neutral – I’m not judging the goal itself. I’m talking about setting goals that have a better chance to succeed, not goals that have less or no chance of success. For example, don’t set unrealistic goals. For instance, if I set the goal of winning the Boston Marathon, that would be an unrealistic goal. My PR is a 3:09. These days you have to run around 2:10 or faster to win it. However, a realistic short term goal for me would be to PR at Boston. A realistic long range goal would be to run a sub 3:00 marathon. My motto, “Reach for what you cannot,” seems to run counter to this advice, but not really. I am always reaching just beyond what I’ve already achieved – that’s my take on that credo. Your goals should be difficult, but not impossibly difficult. Goals should be positive, e.g. “run under 3:10”  – not negative – “don’t run over 3:30.”

Next time I’ll cover planning to achieve your goals and prioritizing.

My 2016 in numb3r5.

I thought about doing this in “good” and “bad” numbers, but it’s all a matter of perspective. For instance, I could call this first one a bad number, but even after starting the long process of getting back into marathon shape, I was still running. That’s something to be thankful for.

18: Days of no running in January after finishing my no run streak beginning 10/17/15 to quiet the inflamed bursa sac under my heel.

2: Half marathons raced.

1: Marathons raced.

1: 5Ks raced.

2: Races run with one of my kids!

1:31:21: The half marathon time I would have run if I hadn’t gone off course in a small town race.

1:34:16: A pretty good 13.1 split at KCM.

3:31:27: The final result after a really bad second half at KCM.

82.4: The temperature at the finish line at KCM.

20:23: A respectable 5K turkey trot time on a hilly course.

1583.42: Running mileage for the year. Not bad for having to ramp back up with low mileage treadmill running and a half marathon training plan through June.

226.39: Running mileage for December. The most volume I’ve ever run in a month.

capture: The pace I’ve averaged for 4mi. during my last 2 tempo/LT runs.

2017: The running mileage I’m going to do in 2017.

4: Races I have already placed on my calendar for 2017.

Which holiday is it again?

Here’s a picture of a Christmas Runner!

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I’m groaning too – but I didn’t race a Christmas-themed race. Instead, I’m catching up with a race report I never wrote from Thanksgiving.

The Ward Parkway Thanksgiving Day Run was Hewitt’s first 5K (he’s my 9-year old, soon to be 10). Maybe I’m not an indulgent enough parent, but when my kids ask me if they can run a race with me, my answer is always “sure!” But… “just train for it first!” Races aren’t cheap, so I like them to understand that a race is a reward for putting in some hard work first.

Hewitt answered the challenge and he came out with me for quite a few runs in October and November. When the temperatures are reasonable (unlike the last couple of weeks) I usually ask the kids or Ellie (the dog) if they want to come on one of my recovery runs with me. Usually these are about 5 miles max, and you can’t run them too slow. Sometimes this backfires on me, but I am flexible. Hewitt is a trooper, and most of the time he’s up for 5, after he worked his way up to it. In fact, he outpaces me and Ellie frequently. Ellie is our 4-year-old Great Dane, and 5 miles is about my self-appointed max for her. She’ll do it on occasion, but more often than not she is happy with 2-3 and wants to turn around.

Race day was cold – I knew it would be hard to convince Hewitt to wear less clothing than he would feel warm in standing around. As a result, he wore pants and a zippered hoodie – too much, but I’m not an expert on how a 65 pound body responds to the cold vs. a 165 pound body. He wound up with the hoodie unzipped and flopping around on his arms only by the end.

You can see his finish video here. He’s on the right side of the frame – white t-shirt, dark pants. His chip time was 27:57 – placing him 9th out of the M9 & under crowd – a very competitive division as it turns out. The winner ran a 23:38. Great race, Hewitt!

His result was even more impressive if you consider this course – pretty serious hills for a 5K. It’s a loop, where you go past the start line on the other side of Ward Parkway and then come back to it. The first mile is downhill, the second mile uphill, the third a little of both.

I’m looking forward to the day where all of my boys can best me in a 5K, but the old man’s still got a few minutes on them.

I wanted to go under 20 minutes, but the combination of a chaotic start and the hilly course meant it was not to be. They started the 10K a couple hundred yards in front of the 5K, but not nearly enough. Enough said about that.

Here’s my finish. I didn’t really kick hard, because by the time I saw the clock, I knew I was going to be over 20:00. I felt great though – I think I would have had it on a flatter course. 20:23 is one of my better 5K times, and that was good enough for 2nd in my M45-59 age group.

Since then, I finished off my marathon recovery plan and I’ve started Boston training. I’m only two weeks in, but I had my most challenging workout so far yesterday – I’m happy with that 16 mile long run, with the last 8 miles at a 7:08 pace. The target marathon pace for this training cycle is 7:00. I was a bit tentative yesterday – I woke up to freezing fog. The driveway and even the street were glazed, and it was so slippery I almost turned around and went in for the treadmill. However, I hate the treadmill, so I explored a bit further and found decent and ever-improving traction on the edges of the cement sidewalk. I did see one crazy dude riding his bike – I don’t know how he stayed up!

Happy Holidays, and Happy Running!

Celebrating Failure! #runKCM #beatyesterday

Many successful people will tell you that the key to succeeding is being willing to fail. Celebrating those failures can become a springboard to success. My family has had some fun around the dinner table with this recently. The kids have attempted to persuade us to take them out for ice cream to celebrate various “failures.” The RHSW gets the credit for introducing this topic, telling us the background story of the founder of Spanx, who credits this practice as formative in her success. Mock those Spanx if you must, but she’s a 45 year old billionaire. Her advice is similar to my credo: “Reach for what you cannot.”

I was reaching going into my fall marathon, Kansas City. I hadn’t raced a marathon in a year, after recovering from an injury in August 2015. My training had gone well, and tune-up races and workouts pointed to a good performance. I was targeting 3:10 – a minute faster than I ran last year.

However, I failed spectacularly. A 3:31 – my slowest timed marathon ever. What happened? The analysis is simple. I was unwilling to be mediocre, and weather conditions didn’t permit me to be excellent. The result: a crash and burn beginning in mile 18.

Ideally, I’d like it to be about 45F at the start of a race. However, it was 65F at 7am, with high humidity and 30 mph winds from the south. Not good. There’s a physiological penalty for anything over 60F, as your body expends extra energy trying to cool itself. And of course a headwind never helped anyone run faster. Did I know these things at the start line? Of course I did! I probably could have eased off the gas and run a 3:15-3:20 without incident, but I didn’t know what the day had in store at that point.

A side stitch struck in mile 18. We’ve all experienced them before when running, and we have a vague idea that they happen when you’re pushing too hard. They’re caused by a spasm of your diaphragm, which is a sheet of muscle at the bottom of your rib cage that’s part of what allows you to breathe in the first place. Push the pace too hard, and hello side stitch!

There’s no question I was pushing too hard with an ambitious pace. However, in the past I’ve always been able to ease off enough to keep going. When the pain set in around mile 18, I slowed my pace and started massaging it by digging my hand into it. I have no idea whether this is actually therapeutic or not, but it did make me feel as though I was doing something. Unfortunately, the pain got worse and worse – so bad I was hobbling, and practically doubled over. It was disappointing, but I soon came to realize I was going to have to walk until it went away. I walked the better part of two miles – some of them with a new friend – Matt, who’d hit the wall in his first marathon.

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Surprisingly happy to be walking…

We got each other shuffling again and resolved to finish. I had to drop back to a walk again after getting nauseous and sent him on. The nausea passed quickly, and I started running again and ran to the finish. I did not want to walk 6 miles, or DNF, so I’m glad I got underway.

I wish I’d had this knowledge during the race, but my post-race research revealed a breathing technique that could have helped resolve the side stitch. Budd Coates, Runner’s World running coach, suggests: slow your pace; and exhale as the foot on the opposite side of the stitch strikes the ground. Not every step (you would probably hyperventilate). This releases the tension on the  side of the diaphragm in spasm. I hope I never have to try this, but now I know what to do!

So, how did I get to mile 18? Pretty fast. Too fast. I programmed a workout into my Garmin fenix 3 using the Smart Pacing 3:10 band they passed out at the expo. The bands are customized with mile splits that take into account the elevation changes of the course and the need to warm up intelligently and not go out too fast. You run a negative split. I programmed the mile splits into my Garmin with pace warnings set with the target pace as the upper boundary (too slow) and 30s faster as the lower boundary (too fast). Ideally, I think you’d like to be within about 10 seconds, not 30. However, I hadn’t tried this before and I didn’t want the watch alarming at me constantly. My first mile was just a touch over 30s too fast, the second was around 25s too fast. After that I settled into a pretty good range, mostly single digits faster than target pace. However, the cumulative effect of that was that I was over 2 minutes faster than target pace at the 12 mile mark. Everything before mile 10 was faster than the target split, mile 10 was dead on, and everything after was slower. Prior to mile 18 though, not much slower. At mile 17, I was still over a minute ahead of target pace, and at mile 18, just under a minute ahead. Of course from there, it just fell apart. You can’t walk two miles and get anywhere near your goal. In retrospect though, I doubt that a more faithful observance of the target paces would have saved me – I was simply running too fast for conditions – mine and the weather.

Around the 24 mile mark, the 3:30 pace group caught me. I’d already long since been passed by the 3:15 group and one other pace group while walking. At this point, I was running, and I decided I felt good enough to run to the finish with them – I managed about 2.5 miles at just over 8:00 pace. The pacer was a bit off (not his fault – I think the course was a bit long due to some signage/traffic control problems on the Paseo in the new section) and I might have run harder to the finish to get it under 3:30, but when the clock came into view, that wasn’t an option.

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Surprisingly sanguine…

I felt pretty barfy afterwards. No elation at a goal achieved or age group victory (although as it turns out I wasn’t that far off). After about 2 hours of feeling sorry for myself, I decided to celebrate my failure. I also decided I was eager to run again! I toed the line thinking go big or go home, so when that’s your mentality you have to accept that failure is a risk!

Your Guide to Running the Kansas City Marathon / Half / 5K #RunKCM

The Kansas City Marathon is my home town’s fall marathon, and we’ll toe the line this year on October 15, 2016. I also ran it in 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2015.

The course has evolved over the years. It was initially run in 1979 as a point-to-point heading south from downtown. More recently the course has become a challenging but scenic loop. It starts and ends in the Crown Center district. If you’re coming in from out of town, look for a hotel there, or downtown. From Crown Center you’ll head up Hospital Hill, and then on to the iconic Liberty Memorial, Westport, Country Club Plaza, Waldo, Hyde Park and the 18th & Vine Jazz district, just to name a few. Trees and fountains (it’s the City of Fountains, after all) are plentiful. Crowd support is sporadic apart from the start/finish line, but there are pockets of real enthusiasm and the course is well-staffed with lots of friendly, supportive volunteers. KCM can’t bill itself as “flat and fast” – but it’s a beautiful, well-thought out course that follows the Chicago model of showing you the town.

KCM is indeed hilly. The gain/loss (it’s a loop) is right around 1000 ft for the course. For comparison’s sake, Boston, a point-to-point course, is net downhill, with just over 500 feet of gain and 1000 feet of loss. Chicago has only about 100! There are only two sections in the KCM course that spike your heart rate – getting up to the Liberty Memorial early in the race, and when you climb up into the Sunset Hills area after mile 10 or so. The stretch from mile 20 up to the Paseo is tough — mainly because of where it is in the race — but gradual.

The race is well-timed on the calendar for optimal racing temperatures. In my experience it’s always been in the 40s at race start, where average daily lows sit at that time of year (46 F). The average high on October 15th is 67 F – a temperature not typically reached before noon. Anything over 60 F starts to affect most people’s performance. As far as rain on your marathon day (not ironic, Alanis, just inconvenient), I’ve never experienced a rainy KCM. Precipitation starts to drop off in October in Kansas City, so the odds of rain are only 1 in 3. My good fortune can’t last forever! Tip: the start can be chilly. Dress in some clothes you were going to give away to charity anyway, and peel them off at the start line just prior to the national anthem. This clothing is collected and donated to a local charity. I’ll also cut the end off some old tube socks to make temporary arm sleeves which can be discarded at an aid station when temps start to rise.

I wrote the preceding paragraph about a month ago. Unfortunately, it looks like the weather will be uncooperative in an unexpected way. I got this email today:

Prepare for warmer than seasonal average weather conditions on Saturday
Greetings runners! While there is still time for the forecast to change, we wanted to make you aware that warmer than historical average temperatures are expected on Saturday for the 2016 Waddell & Reed Kansas City Marathon with Ivy Investments. If the current forecast holds true, you can expect temperatures in the 60-65 degree range at the start of the race with a noticeable wind from the south, and a high temperature around 80 degrees late in the day.

Well, that’s a bummer. The 10 day forecast looked much better. Can I get a “reset”? I’m probably going to have to readjust my goal pace expectations by at least 30 seconds per mile.

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The course is 100% paved, a mix of concrete and asphalt on city streets. There are minor changes from year to year, often due to road construction or neighborhood considerations. This year’s changes include a detour beginning around mile 16, where it will head east for a bit before taking a different, hillier route back north to the Plaza. A couple of other sections are altered to accommodate this one. When I first started running this race, there were several turns in the last mile, but more recently the final stretch has been modified to get everyone out onto Grand sooner, putting the finish line in sight after you make the turn. It’s a big boost!

You’ll want to incorporate hills into your training – both ups and downs. Not only are they “speedwork in disguise,” but you’ll be running quite a few of them on this course. Nothing scary – no 10% grades – but you’ll be ready if you practice “even effort” on hills. Also, the race offers great pace groups at a wide variety of paces, and they follow the “even effort” mantra. In other words, it’s not just a fit 20-something with a GPS watch leading a group to the exact same split every mile. They’ve actually split up the entire course accounting for elevation change in each mile, as well as a warm-up period at the beginning. Another training tip is to train on the course. Familiarity breeds confidence. Those tough sections aren’t as tough when you know exactly when you’ll be through them. On race day, hitting the tangents can help quite a bit on a course that has a lot of turns. If you run with a pace group, they focus on this. Otherwise, if you’ve trained on the course, you’ll know how to set up for the next turn.

I’ve focused on the marathon course, but a half marathon is also offered. It follows the marathon course for the first 6+ miles into the Plaza, then rejoins it in mile 9 (just before 23 on the marathon course). There’s also a 5K and Kids Marathon, as well as a Team Relay. The presence of the relay runners is a good reminder that you need to set your own pace goals and not get caught up in what others are doing!

Kansas City is a great place for a marathon, and a great place to feast afterwards. For me, it’s usually one of our great BBQ restaurants. I hope you’ll join me in running this great race!

5 Hidden Features in Your Garmin #beatyesterday

Ok, “hidden” is a bit clickbaity, but I discover cool new things about my Fenix 3 all the time, even past the 1 year mark. Here’s my 5 favorite things I didn’t know about until I took a deeper dive into the owners’ manual and submenus on the watch:

  1. Auto backlight. Who runs in the dark? Everyone! Who wants to push a button to see their watch face? No one! This setting turns your backlight on when you raise and turn your arm to look at your watch. Genius.
  2. Alerts. There are many to choose from, but my favorite obscure one is min/max cadence. I’m a 180 bpm guy – high cadence due to my forefoot/midfoot strike. I don’t set a max, but setting the min to 180 keeps me from slogging on longer runs.
  3. Stopwatch. I always thought it was goofy that my Forerunner didn’t have one. It didn’t bother me too badly since I never wore it unless I was running. But, now that I wear my Fenix 3 all the time, it’s handy for things like grilling (do you smell something burning?). Garmin throws in a timer, alarm, etc. now too. So your Garmin can now do everything your 80s digital watch could! Unless you had one of those sweet calculator ones.
  4. The ability to push training plans and workouts to your watch with Garmin connect and Express. No more counting intervals. Plus, with available effort alerts like heart rate and pace, it’s almost like having your coach there shouting at you. Almost. I’ve got a heart-rate based plan on my watch right now for KCM (22 days!), but I am looking forward to loading an Advanced Marathoning training plan onto my calendar for my spring 2017 marathon (Boston!). It’s really easy to enter workouts, and you can drag and drop if it’s the same one again (like a 4 mi recovery run, e.g.).
  5. Face-it. This one doesn’t really help me #beatyesterday, but it’s fun. This phone app lets you take a photo or pretty much any image and turn it into a watch face, like so:

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What’s your favorite off-the-beaten-path Garmin feature?

Wake me up, I’m dreaming!

Friday night, I had a dream that I was running a race in my home town (Creve Coeur) and went off course. By the time I got back on track, the race was almost over, and I was trying to decide what to do about it!

Some psychologists have tried to establish the existence of precognitive dreams, in which a dream has a similarity to a future event. I don’t believe in precognition, except to the extent that our brains tend to see patterns of familiarity, after which we retroactively convince ourselves of the precision of the match. Or perhaps we never even had the dream, and the deja vu phenomenon is tricking us into believing we “remember” a past dream of a future event.

Of course, our dreams often simply reflect our fears (or concerns, if fear is too strong a word for anything as trivial as a race). Saturday morning, I raced a half marathon in a town I’d never been too, on a course I’d never traveled. You see where this is going…my dream became reality! I ran off course for several minutes (I estimate 5+) and blew my “official” time. I know I didn’t deja vu the dream, because I actually mentioned it to a couple I was chatting with while warming up before the race. It didn’t seem quite so funny after it actually happened!

I’m not going to say what race it was, or what town I was in – I am not trying to generate bad publicity for the town, or badmouth the race director, or any of the well-intentioned volunteers that helped put on the event. The race director already acknowledged the issue at the finish line, and apologized to all on the race web site – encouraging suggestions or concerns.

I have three suggestions:

  • Re-mark the course with spray paint on the street in a bold color every year. I saw some markings on the street, but they were in faded white paint – perhaps from a previous year. Especially at key intersections, it would be reassuring to see something like “HALF” or “RACE.” Or, get creative with a stencil. Anything that tells runners that we are looking at something other than some faded utility markings for a gas or water line.
  • Better signage and more of it. It can be better even on a shoestring budget. If you’ve taken the time to place a sign, make sure we know it’s associated with the race. I don’t think I ever got fooled by any garage sale signs, but I did see a few arrows that I was sure didn’t have anything to do with the race, and they looked the same as the race signs. Just add “HALF” or “RACE” to your sign, and we’ll get that warm fuzzy feeling that we’re going the right way.
  • Take just a few minutes with your volunteers to make sure they know the vicinity of course where they will be stationed. At one point close to where I ran off course, there was a lady at an aid station. I could see an intersection not far from where she was standing, so I asked “Which way?” She said, “I don’t know.” I replied, “somebody should!” She agreed. I don’t expect you to have enough volunteers to have somebody standing at every intersection – just that you take advantage of what you do have.

I’ll admit that this post is part constructive criticism, part venting. I know it’s not easy to put on a race and have everything come together perfectly. Even big city races with lots of resources get it wrong sometimes – shorting the course, poor directions, unanticipated interference, etc. I also acknowledge that the primary mission of the race I ran was charitable. I didn’t ask for and wouldn’t have wanted a refund of my modest entry fee given that. However, I did travel a significant distance to run the race in part because it was a USTAF certified course. In my mind, that conveys a certain standard of precision and organization beyond a fun run. My expectations were: (1) a clearly marked course; (2) a timed result, accurate for the stated distance; (3) enough competition (hopefully) to keep me motivated and running hard during the race.

I was using the race as a benchmark in my marathon training – my plan said “race a half marathon or run a time trial.” I’ve done a 10K time trial solo before, but I didn’t trust myself to run a half, hard, all by myself. My gut told me that I’ve made a return to peak fitness after a summer of hard training. After injury, the winter running layoff and no spring marathon took a toll, but I think I’m back.

The race was a shotgun start. There was another guy – older than me, but obviously fit(ter!) who asked me what my goal was. I told him I was hoping for something close to 1:30. He replied that he was shooting for the same. He was the second person (after the aforementioned couple) who mentioned something about the course being not all that well-marked. I joked that I would probably just follow him then. I wish I’d been able to – he finished in under 1:30. We stuck together through the first 4 miles or so, but he was pulling away significantly by the time we reached the part of the course where we passed the start/finish line on our way to the second, longer out-and-back. There was a third guy in the lead pack – younger than me, one of those effortless tall guys who probably ran middle distance and cross-country in college. He was running the relay though, and wasn’t giving max effort as far as I could tell. Unfortunately, I lost sight of the only guy ahead of me not too long before I got off course. That moment when I realized I was definitely off was a frustrating one. Crossing some railroad tracks and running into a T-intersection for a road with no sidewalks or race markings was a big clue. It was very difficult not to shut it down and start walking at that point. However, I resolved to try to get back on course and run angry. I was disappointed in myself for missing any markings that would have kept me on track. Who knows if I did or not! I probably slowed a bit while trying to find my way back to the course, but a few minutes later I saw another runner and latched on. Back on course, I ran hard to the end.

At the finish line, a couple of people were on the other side clapping and ready to give me my participation medal. I could tell from the clock that I had run longer than 13.1 based on my pace. In fact, I’m now sure I ran all of the course, plus some bonus mileage. I stopped short of the mat and took off my timing bracelet, placed it outside the finish line, then walked across the finish. I didn’t want my time to count – I wasn’t sure I ran the course, but I was sure I’d run too far! My watch said 13.92.

I was curious to see what I might have done if I had run only the 13.1 distance. The day had a PR feel to it, even with the handicap of feeling discombobulated and slowed for about 10 minutes. I was eager to look at my splits, do the math, and see what might have been. However, my phone didn’t have a data connection so I had to drive back home for a while until I found a place with Wi-fi to stop for lunch. Roughly, it looked good. Later, Garmin Connect rewarded my efforts with this consolation prize:

Half PR

I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to break 1:30 (a long-standing personal goal) but I probably would have went for it if I had been close and running confidently. However, I ran almost the entire second half of the race knowing it wasn’t going to “count” regardless.

I was a little bummed out that I was running in second when I got lost. I’m sure I wouldn’t have caught the first place guy. It REALLY would have been frustrating if I had been leading the race when I got lost! As it turns out, the only other time better than my 1:37 was the aforementioned relay pair. I ended up second for the solo distance anyway.

The Kansas City Marathon is just 39 days away! I’m gunning for a PR!