Has goal-setting now become a competitive sport in itself?

Like many people who only discovered running into their twenties and took part in the London marathon on the chance of a charity place, I, without actually knowing it, had ticked off a World Marathon Major (WMM).  By wanting to run London on the basis of it being the world-famous, once sponsored by Flora when Paula did it, used to watch it on TV in my parent’s old house with my cornflakes London Marathon, I had inadvertently collected one of a set of six medals that constitute the WMM.  It wasn’t long before I discovered this, and set myself the goal that many share of running them all. Some people aim to do it by a certain age, or in a certain order, and I’ve had all of these ideas and more and as a result have subconsciously been planning my goal races around getting them all as quickly as possible.

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I write this in the possession of two London medals, and two entry places to get two more; Chicago in 2017 and Berlin in 2018 (I shall be deferring my place).  This means by the time I am 27 (and a quarter) I shall have three out of six – half way to the full set.  This means were I to get the places I could very realistically do them by 30.  Except, well, what about the Loch Ness marathon?

I don’t know why, but I really want to do the Loch Ness marathon and have done for a while.

If I’m running Chicago in 2017, Berlin in 2018 then the earliest I could run Loch Ness is 2019, and that would mean I wouldn’t be able to run New York until 2020. Equally, I really want to do the Sheffield Half Marathon again.  It was my first, and having run it twice in its old guise, I want to do the new route. But it will fall the week before Boston every year – I can’t race a half marathon then if I’m going to do Boston!!! And New York and Boston are more important, right?

Also, the LIDL Kingston Breakfast Run. I really liked that run, but I’m not sure it’ll work with my training. I also really want to run the Two Oceans Ultra Marathon in South Africa.  When will that bucket list item have its turn?

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So, what is the point in saying all of this?  It’s because I, and likely you, are only human. I don’t have the resources of time, money (going to Chicago has already cost a small fortune), the capacity to train as much and when I would like as I work full time, or support of a coach, on-hand physio and all the other things that help get professionals to the start line injury free. Beyond anything else I am not a professional athlete.  I am a professional financial and corporate PR consultant, and even with the best will in the world I would struggle to perform to the best of my ability at every race if I were to just cram as many significant races into as short a time as possible, that is if I were able to do it at all without injuring myself.  I know I take a while to recover from marathons and I can’t just set myself time targets based on the fact that I want to do them. My body has to play ball too. When I read about other people taking on mammoth tasks I do wander how realistic a goal it is. This is not to be disempowering towards the aspirations of others, but I do feel concerned when a goal  that would be a very high achievement is put in the context of something that is easily attained, accessible to anyone and within a strict time limit.  There’s pushing yourself to your limits for success, and there’s not respecting your limits as a person and that sort of downfall can leave you worse than when you started both physically and emotionally.

When did we all forget that just running a marathon in itself is very impressive – isn’t that enough? 

When you hear about people taking on endlessly impressive challenges such as ultra-marathons in scorching heat, ironman length triathlons, a half marathon every weekend, a marathon every month, a marathon followed by training for another endurance event with no rest etc etc, then it’s very easy to fall into the trap of thinking “that’s impressive, I should/can aim for that level as well.” You can feel awed into choosing a goal based on it being impressive in the eyes of others, rather than something you purely want to do for yourself.

I’m not trying to bash anyone’s goals here, and if you want to do something purely because it is impressive to others and that is your motivation then absolutely go for it, but the point I would like to make is that it’s important to think about why you want a goal, not just is it SMART or attainable or any other performance review crap.  Why do you want to do something and is it really contributing to your happiness or how you want to move forwards with your life? Does it inspire that “holy shit, I’ve just done that” feeling? Does it make you smile at the thought of it? Does it make you feel like you’re the heavyweight champion of the world? Or is it the goal or achievement of your friend, someone you admire on instagram, or a celebrity? Is it a goal that a lot of people with common interests have and would make sense for you to have to?

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If I never did another WMM after London then it wouldn’t make it 1/6 of a medal or a marathon – it’s still the London Marathon and I still did it.  Twice no less. I still want to complete all six, but I’m going to do it in a way that makes me the happiest.  I’ll do Boston, New York and Tokyo as and when I’m ready. Life is stressful and there are pressures enough without creating obsolete deadlines about when you need to complete optional endurance events.

My new goal is to only set goals that I can’t wait to get my teeth into because I want to experience it, not get it over with and to say I’ve done it.  The WMM can wait, because first opportunity I get I’m going to find Nessie.

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