2021 was a very different year for me, one filled with new opportunities and different challenges. I promised myself I would get out of my comfort zone and set some lofty goals for what I wanted to get done physically. Honestly, I wasn’t even sure that I could meet them. Getting there would require a level of dedication that I hadn’t previously been able to commit to physically and mentally. But they were reasonable, and they mattered to me. If a goal doesn’t have true meaning to you, your commitment may suffer over time as the challenges increase.
Having been a team sport athlete through high school and college, I never considered the possibility of competing in an individual or endurance-type sport. This is a situation that many in the military often find themselves in. A life of playing team sports, transitioning to the military where much of the higher-level physical training needs to be conducted individually. It’s definitely different going from constantly having a coach guide you, to sometimes needing to figure out training on your own.
Even though I was motivated to start, getting COVID in March made it hard. I struggled getting back into the gym and strength/anaerobically train the way I had for the last 5 years. That routine building was challenging as it was easy to make my physical training a low priority. It’s always easy to throw it on the back burner as life happens. I’m sure a lot of you can related to something that distracted you and made it hard to get back on track.
I started by trying some shorter distance triathlons which inevitably required me to start training specifically for running. I quickly found myself addicted and wanting to run more and more each week. Taking that first step made the next one easier. After completing a few different triathlons over the course of the summer and early fall of 2021, I was approached by a friend to run the Honolulu Marathon in December of 2021. Having only 75 days to prepare for my longest run, I was a bit intimidated. But, running this marathon was the goal I was looking for - it would take me out of my comfort zone.
3 to 4 hours of running was no small feat but I knew others who had run the Boston and New York City marathons, so I thought, why not me? This is a common theme that we’ve talked about at Blue / Green before. When you aren’t confident, you can look around at others. What are those who are succeeding doing? You can emulate them and use it to build yourself up. This is relatable to the military. If your buddy can get after the goals they joined the military to reach (maybe it’s getting to Ranger School, getting selected for Special Forces, succeeding at RASP, or anything else), then why can’t you?
I set a goal to run a sub-3 hour and 30-minute marathon. This is an above average time that I’d really have to work on reaching, not a time you just show up and knock out. I wanted to try to beat the times of others who had run before me and others I would be running with. Of course, I wanted to be better than them. Who doesn’t want to be better? I quickly realized that this broader outcome goal would require setting some more targeted process goals and weekly running progressions. As I considered my training, I wanted to continue to focus on what was in my control, rather than get hung up on what I couldn’t control. This is certainly easier said than done.
Having established my end goal, I then moved my focus towards the actual process. Each week I would set a small process-oriented goal, which made the broader goal more manageable. Rather than telling myself I wanted to train to eventually run this sub 3:30 marathon time, I evaluated my weekly training targets and told myself I would complete each training session scheduled for that week. Here is a further discussion on segmenting down your goals to more manageable sections.
What I mean by this is that a broad goal is good in order to ultimately guide your training. I wanted to be sub 3:30. But I needed to commit to smaller goals along the way that would help me achieve this bigger goal. You’ve heard this all before, but I put it into practice. Doing this is no different than something like improving on the ACFT. It’s productive and important to establish how you’d like to do on each event, but you then need to turn your focus to the weekly steps you’ll take to get there. That process matters and it’s where success comes from. We know Tom Brady has the goal of winning a super bowl, but with that goal set, he focused on how he'll get there. This means a focus each day with appropriate practice, working out, eating, team building, and recovery. The little steps matter a lot and they guide you.
After those first few weeks, I reevaluated my process goals and realized I could do more. And that’s something that should be done constantly. Sometimes you need less, sometimes you need more. This is why a rigid training plan never optimizes results. Considering your current situation and adjusting as necessary is smart because each body reacts to training different. For me, I knew I could put in more effort and suffer a little more. I began to race against myself, never wanting to let my current 12-mile run be any slower than the previous week. I found myself more highly motivated by the challenge of beating my own times instead of just beating others.
Focusing on beating others can be productive, but when done excessively, it can get destructive. After all, someone would always be faster. Rather than being an ego-oriented individual who compares their performance to others and always focuses on winning, I chose to now be a mastery-oriented individual. The Blue / Green mental performance team further discusses ego and process goals here.
As the race came closer, I realized I needed to reduce my other training and focus singularly on running, which was a large adjustment for me. This is an important concept within fitness. Your time, energy and ability to recover are limited. For me this meant more running, less lifting. This was hard for me but became obvious when I really thought about my marathon goal. This comes up a lot when we talk to athletes training for a school or selection. I know we’re all hooked up on hitting the weights to get big and strong, but sometimes that doesn’t support the current goal (or at least no longer needs to be a huge part of our training). We have to be realistic about where we spend our limited efforts. We have a good discussion on fitness focuses here and here.
By shifting my mindset to setting process-oriented goals, I was able to define my success by growth and development (i.e. increased run capacity), focus on the journey (i.e. each training session) rather than the end, and commit to things that were internal and within my control (i.e. my pace, level of effort, etc.), rather than committing to goals that were dependent on external circumstances.
Looking back on my training, my progress was significant. A year ago, I would have cringed at the thought of running any distance over 1 mile. You shouldn’t be discouraged from getting after something that matters to you, though. Throughout my training, I was reminded that beating others is contingent on external factors (i.e., their performance). If you focus on yourself, your effort and your goals then you will feel a higher level of satisfaction when you reach the other side. And at the end of the day, I was proud that I stepped outside my comfort zone and committed to something I didn’t think I would ever achieve. I now know that I can set bigger goals and still succeed by breaking them down.
How can you increase the likelihood of achieving your next goal?