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Why Goal Setting is Important for Endurance Athletes + Tools and Tips

BY Joe Hamilton

Here are five tools endurance athletes should use for smart goal setting.

The infamous word “goal” seems to have almost become trivial these days. Personal goals, business goals, retirement goals, athletic goals, and the list goes on and on. I, for one, have so many goals that I can’t keep them all straight. And yet, goals, in their purest sense, are not at all trivial — they provide us with purpose. Without goals, our day-to-day actions may not add up, and our “why” remains undefined. Before long, there is no association between what we do and how it aligns with our goals. As Tony Robbins once said, “People are not lazy. They simply have impotent goals — that is, goals that do not inspire them.”

As we move into 2022, we may know the importance of goals, but we often associate them with the annual buzzword that comes at the end of the year. While a new year can be a constructive reset, it’s also rather mindless to jot down your biggest aspirations on a piece of paper that’s left to sit in the drawer for the rest of the year. Instead of grand proclamations that may or may not come true, think of your goals as a compass that helps to determine changes to your current process. They should force you to develop habits to support your intention and ideals. In this way, goals are what I view as intelligence in action, becoming actionable items rather than lofty dreams.

Goal setting can take time, but the more you put into the process, the more you will get out of it. Goal setting should be viewed as an integral part of your training program, so here are some tools to help you plan your 2022 goals. 

1. Complete a Season Assessment

When setting goals, you want to look backward in order to move forward, so completing a post-season analysis is key. Look at last year’s goals (whether race-oriented or not) and summarize what you learned. What worked and what did not work? Examples may include race nutrition strategies or intervals you liked and did not like. You will be surprised by some of the themes you begin to notice that can be detrimental to your training process. 

2. Conduct a Gap Analysis

Where did you land, and was it where you wanted to go? If you did not get where you wanted to be, you must ask yourself why and evaluate what barriers kept you from reaching the next level you aspired to achieve. Was it training issues, work stuff, trips?  Were the causes in or out of your control? WKO is a great tool to validate your hypothesis with data. 

3. Take The Time and Effort to Establish SMART Goals

Goal setting can be a long and arduous process, so start early. If your races are in the summer of 2022, you should be planning your goals in November. When establishing my own goals, I often do it in increments. In other words, when I find myself stuck or flustered, I walk away, let it resonate and then come back to my goals. Always apply the SMART principle to your goals. Your goal should always be specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timebound. If it’s not, then reevaluate your goal and determine why it isn’t. Often it just needs to be reframed. Usually, a third eye (i.e., discussion with your coach) can give you a fresh perspective and a more straightforward goal. 

4. Categorize Your New Goals

Group your goals into two buckets: performance goals and training goals. Performance goals are ones that have specific and measurable objectives (e.g., PRs, race results, completing a distance in an event, etc.). Training goals are ones you establish to achieve your performance goals (e.g., increase mean maximal power in zones, improve sub-threshold power at different durations, etc.). Determining how to fill that gap makes it a real goal. 

5. Establish Milestones

Know the difference between a goal and an objective. Objectives are how you plan to achieve your goals. For example, a training objective is simply a statement about one of your limiters and how you will know it is corrected in relation to your mesocycles. For example, increasing your FTP during a base period is not an attainable goal or objective. When I help my athletes establish objectives, I categorize them into buckets, including physical conditioning, racing strengths, racing limiters, racing knowledge, and racing psychology. 

As you establish your goals for 2022, view the process as an integral part of your annual training plan. The amount of effort you put into goal setting will influence the quality of your training, and therefore the success of your 2022 racing season.

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About Joe Hamilton

Joe Hamilton is a coach for SpinDoctors Performance, LLC. He has more than a decade of experience in the bicycle industry as an athlete, coach, personal trainer, and team organizer. As a USAC and Accredited Training Peaks Level 2 coach, he has helped athletes at every level prepare to reach their goals in road and mountain cycling. You can follow SpinDoctors on Instagram or Facebook. For more information on personal coaching, training plans, or to schedule a free introductory call visit:

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