A shot in the dark gets you one of two things: Either a very happy-to-be-alive deer or a very upset neighbor with a newly flattened truck tire. You need a light to shine the way. In triathlon, that light is a goal. A finish line you can run toward.
Triathlon goals are different for every triathlete. For some it’s beating their PR. For others it’s placing top 5 in their age group. Maybe you want to qualify for Kona. Or maybe you just want to finish your first triathlon. The goal-setting possibilities are endless!
But if you have yet to set a goal or are having trouble deciding what it should be, consider these five tips for triathletes to ensure that your goals are appropriate and applicable:
1. Consider Your Strengths
What you excel at should play into how you set your season goal. For example, if you’re a gritty type of individual whose strength is going long, consider making your goal a long course race such as a half iron or full iron distance triathlon.
However, don’t disregard your weaknesses either. Let’s say you’re trying to define your long distance triathlon goal. If you’re a bad climber on the bike, avoid a hilly course to better flesh out the details of which race you’re going to choose.
Or forget racing goals altogether. Maybe you want to create a more obtuse goal based on your strengths and weaknesses. For instance, if you’re great in the swim but weak on the run, a totally appropriate season goal might be to train less in the swim and work to improve your run ability.
2. Do You Have Enough Time?
In interviews, I’m often asked what my long-term and short-term goals are. In other words, what do I want to achieve in the distant as well as immediate future? Time is an important factor in setting your triathlon season goal too.
Do you want your goal to be a full IRONMAN this year? Well, if you’re just beginning to train for the first time and the race of your desire is in September, perhaps reconsider this notion. For a beginner triathlete this simply isn’t enough time to gain the required fitness in order to successfully finish an IRONMAN. Why not craft an objective based on a timeframe that logistically works?
Take a good look at your road ahead in terms of time. The inspection will help you determine what short term and long term triathlon goals make the most sense.
3. What’s Realistic?
In determining what your goal will be for the season don’t forget that this is something you actually hope to achieve. A runner who has spent the better part of a year attempting to crack 21 minutes in the 5k doesn’t just say, “Ok, now I’m going to shoot for 18!”
A triathlon goal needs to live in the real world. Tips 1 and 2 will make their way into this conversation. Decide on something based on your real strengths and how much real time you have. Do you want to qualify for Kona? If you’ve been finishing only a few minutes behind the triathletes in your age group who are qualifying then this is a very realistic goal. Go for it!
4. Do Your Research
Setting a proper goal becomes easier when you’re backed by knowledge. Let’s look at our example from the last tip again. You’re trying to make it to Kona and you’ve been close before. What’s it going to take to move you up into that magical slot?
You’re weak on the climbs but strong on the flats. You do well in mild weather. Is there an IRONMAN that has been weak in your age group the past few years?
With these considerations in mind, do some research on the IRONMAN market to find your ideal race. Try to match the historical facts of your race options with what will most benefit your Kona prospects. There are a number of resources to consult online. Or just ask around. Your coach or a friend may be able to help narrow down what will best serve your potential triathlon goal.
5. Be Ambitious
While tip 3 was urging you to be realistic, that isn’t to say you still can’t dream big. You should set a highly ambitious goal, one that will take blood, sweat, and tears to actualize. What you shouldn’t do, however, is live in a fantasy.
Goals can be ambitious while still remaining feasible. It’s a balance we learn to walk. But you should aim high because since when has shooting low given you motivation to wake up in the morning? Your triathlon goal needs to push you. It should transform you into a mentally stronger person.
TRIDOT TAKEAWAY: Triathletes should set goals based on their strengths and weakness, their timeframe, the realistic nature of the goal, research behind its applicability, and their ambition.
TALK WITH TRIDOT: What tips have you employed when setting your triathlon season goals? What other tips can you provide?
JARED MILAM is a professional triathlete, TriDot coach, and member of the Tri4Him Pro Team. He has 16 years of competitive running experience and 11 years of competitive triathlon experience with a half Iron PR of 3:59 and a full Iron PR of 8:30. Coaching under the TriDot system since 2011, Jared loves working with aspiring triathletes of all ages and performance levels.