Planning a block of training can really determine your goals. But to be of much use they have got to be SMART. Some of you may already be bored now – yeah, yeah, we all know this, S for specific, M for measurable, A for achievable, R for relevant, and T for time-bound. But do you actually do it? I was most recently reminded of this concept when flicking through my notes from the BTF level 2 coaching course.

So in practise, does this actually work? At the beginning of the year I wrote on a piece of paper – amongst other things – by the end of July I want to have improved my 10 mile time trial PB to sub 23 minutes. Why is this a much better goal than ‘I want to get faster on the bike’?

Let’s start with S. What is faster on the bike? 1 second over 10 miles? 2 over 50 miles? Letting go off the brakes when descending and recording a new max speed? Quantifying things will keep you honest. Shooting at the target is rather difficult if you don’t know what it is.

Sub 23 for 10 is certainly measurable. There’s the distance, there’s the time. There’s no mistake on whether I have done it or not. No wiggling out of this one. The watch doesn’t lie.

My fastest 10 mile time trial in 2009 was 23:38. The question to ask yourself here is: How realistic am I when I say I want to improve this by 39 seconds or more? Am I already close to my potential, and improvements require a big new stimulus in my training? Or did I barely ride in training when I set that PB? In my case I was pretty fit, but the time trial was part of a training ride. I was also training for a 112 mile bike ride not a 10, and threw the 10 into my training plan for a little bit of fun. And given how easily I smashed my PB last week, it was probably a goal that I set slightly too low. However, chasing it kept me turning up at more time trials than I otherwise would have done, resulting in good training, and huge satisfaction when I rode 22.32 last week. What happens if a target is not realistic? An example from my academic career: Before I started my PhD in Brighton, I did a bit of work within a research group in Germany. It didn’t take long until I was pretty miserable and clearly demotivated to get on with the task I was set. And that was not because I wasn’t interested. It was because I didn’t get it. I was utterly lost, in other words the goal I had been set was totally unrealistic, and thus I lost my motivation. Goals have got to be challenging your current limits yet not to be outside of your possibilities.

Last year a 10mile time trial was not relevant. I was Ironman training. Riding 10 miles fast was fun, but it’s benefit to riding 112 miles at good pace in preparation for running a marathon is debatable. As this year was all about going faster – not longer – setting myself several targets over short distance events was a great way to keep motivated, and most certainly relevant to what I set out to achieve.

Lastly, why is it important to set a time frame for your goals? If it doesn’t matter when I achieve something, I normally find myself slacking off a little. Deadlines are so powerful in helping you getting the work done, be that at work, university, or within your sport.

How about your goals? Are you in track? If not, could the reason be that they are not SMART? We’re now coming up to the half-way mark of the triathlon season – perfect timing for some re-evaluation.

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