Words by Taylor Thomas of Thomas Endurance Coaching
Most athletes are driven by some type of goal. It could be to get stronger, faster, podium, finish a certain distance, or win a national championship. The size and type of goals aren’t what’s most important. What matters most is that whatever the goal is, it fuels the individual to strive to be their best self. Goals are what push us to commit to those early morning trainer sessions and cold winter rides in hopes that we’ll be able to move the needle when the time comes. Another key aspect of establishing goals is knowing how to do it effectively. It’s not good enough to simply state that you have a goal, you must take the right actions at the right time to ensure your dreams become a reality.
Mental First. Action Second
The road to success first starts in your mind. Visualizing what it’s going to take to achieve your goals is an important first step in your process. This “mental mapping” helps to rewire your neural pathways so that you can feel confident and secure in your approach and helps to shut down the doubt and fear that often accompany lofty goals. Another vital psychological step is to define your “why”. The excitement you first experience in relation to your goals will not stay forever. It will ebb and flow with the seasons, so it’s critical that you take the time to define your why. What are your intrinsic and extrinsic motivators? What is it about this goal(s) that makes it important to you? How does it add value to your life? Answers to questions like these will be what you can cling to when the inevitable dark periods of training come. This mental map will ultimately drive you to push through the times when you lose focus, drive, and commitment. The road to peak fitness begins in your mind.
Review and Planning
The best place to start is by looking at the past. A thorough post-season review should be the first step on your path to your newly set goals. You can’t know where you’re going unless you know where you’ve been. Use a combination of both qualitative and quantitative feedback from previous seasons to understand what went right, and where you can improve. Use performance metrics to understand when and why you were performing certain workouts, and then compare those sessions to the feedback you gave for each workout. The end goal of this review should be to try and understand where you’ve had success in the past, and where it is you can improve.
Once you’ve taken the time to learn from your past performances you can begin to put a plan into place. Start by mapping out the overall periodization strategy, or “flow” of your training. Having a macro-view roadmap in place at the onset will ensure you progress properly and are able to get back on track when things inevitably get derailed due to sickness, work, travel, family, etc. Once the macro is in place begin to think through what the focus of each training phase should be, and how cumulatively each phase will build towards the successful execution of your goal. You don’t have to have every workout planned a year in advance, but knowing what to focus on and when is crucial for success.
You’ve thought through what it’s going to take to achieve your goals, you’ve reviewed past seasons, developed a plan, and now it’s time to begin executing towards your goals. This part looks different for every athlete. Based on available time, schedule, outside responsibilities, and unique physiology the way workouts are structured can vary wildly. The most important thing to remember is that whatever training you’re doing, at whatever time, should be as individualized as possible. Just because a riding partner is doing an “8-Week Build Program” doesn’t mean that’s what you should be doing. Perform workouts that adhere to your roadmap. Do the training that builds on your strengths and bolsters your weaknesses. Don’t be afraid to single out the areas that need work and face them head-on. If and when things don’t go as planned rely on your overarching strategies to keep you on track. Also, always keep in mind that one workout, or one week, does not make or break your training. Be kind to yourself and allow for some flexibility when it’s required. Training for big goals is all about balance, not nailing every single session all season long. Training for aggressive goals is a marathon, not a sprint, so structure the execution accordingly.
Having goals is important. They’re what drives athletes to be their best selves, and strive for more year after year. They also require attention and planning to ensure that they are met. Check the mental boxes first before embarking on any planning or training. Defining success internally will ensure that it’s manifested externally when the time comes to execute on your goal. Use the tools you have to review and plan your season(s). Any goal worth obtaining requires a well thought out plan. The execution is what most athletes think the most about, but it’s the final step on your way to achieving your goals. The effort and attention that our goals require is part of what makes them so special.
Taylor Thomas is the founder and head coach of Thomas Endurance Coaching (TEC) and has more than a decade of experience in the endurance sports industry as an athlete, coach, team organizer, writer, and podcast host. TEC provides expert level coaching to athletes of all ability levels and specializes in both a scientific and metrics-based approach to endurance sports. They guide athletes in a wide variety of disciplines ranging from running and cycling to mountaineering. For more information on their personal coaching and training plan options visit http://www.thomasendurancecoaching.com/. Also, listen to their top-rated podcast Endurance Minded everywhere you get your podcasts.