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Tri 101 Goals

Goals can be small or tall. They can be safe or be reaching for the stars. But one thing is sure, having goals draws us into action and helps forge a direction!

I have seen the power of goals work first hand with the athletes I have coached over the past 25-years. You can take two athletes of similar abilities and give them both the same training schedules. But if one has specific goals they are targeting with those workouts and the other is just using them to have a consistent program going, the one with the goals will gain significantly more fitness.

And the good news is that a goal doesn’t really need to be realistic to be effective in amplifying the impact of it.

That’s the beauty of goals! A pie in the sky goal is like your personal accountability knocking at your mind’s door each day keeping you on task with the work needed to hopefully bring it into form. It’s the magnet drawing you out of bed in the morning to go workout. The big goals are the ones that scare you just enough with their uncertainty that you put in the hard work when needed, even if it’s uncomfortable or unnatural.

Big goals are a push and a pull. They work to bring the best out of you. They weigh heavier on the “should I train or blow it off” decision making teeter totter than the excuses sitting on the other end of the fulcrum saying it’s okay to skip the workout. Here are three tips to help you to set goals.

Goals must have meaning.

A goal has to spark something significant inside of you when you think about going for it. You don’t have to write a discourse about why it has meaning. It could be as simple as you just want to try something amazing. “I want to see if I can complete an IRONMAN!” There doesn’t need to be the potential for a life-changing impact to come from achieving it either. It’s motivating just knowing you are going for something pretty cool!

Goals must be your purpose, not someone else’s.

I am sure you have gone down the road of pursuing a goal that someone else said is important for you. But unless you also feel it’s importance, that goal will lose out to other things that ultimately spark a deeper calling in you. And you’ll know if a goal is really yours and not someone else’s  when you start doing the work to achieve it. If it’s yours, you’ll wake up day after day excited about how you’re going to get there.

Goals must have a few layers to help you weather the tough times and the setbacks.

I will not sugar coat this one. There is never a road reaching for the big goals that has smooth pavement the entire way. There’ll be challenges you didn’t know you were going to have to deal with. You might take a few wrong turns and have to backtrack to get back on the real track. There can be periods when you feel like your working your ass off only to stand still and not get anywhere. This is when layers within that goal can help.

Here’s an example from my racing. My BAHG (Big Ass Hairy Goal) was to win the IRONMAN World Championship in Kona. That was the top goal. But I was also realistic and knew that on any given day there is only going to be one person who earns that honor. So I had to have a few layers of meaning to the race that would keep me going even if that BAHG felt like it was slipping from my grasp.

So my second level goal was to just try to get the most out of my body that I could. That meant going for it even if that was less than what I could do on another day.

Then my third level goal was the one that kept me going even if all the wheels fell of my race. It’s what kept me going when I felt completely broken down and wanted to quit. That goal was to just cross the finish line no matter how long it took me, no matter how far down on the results page my name would appear.

Those three layers of goals were what kept me in the race and enabled me to win the IRONMAN World Championship 6-Times.

Even on the days where I won, I had long periods where victory seemed impossible. That second goal of getting the best out of what I had to give kept me engaged 100%. There were also periods even in the victorious years when I felt like I couldn’t take another step and was thinking about just dropping out.

That third layer goal kept me going during those moments. I’d pull back my expectations. I’d  remind myself in the darkest moments that to even cross the finish line would be a victory. That had immense meaning to try to do. And I’d make that commitment to finish. And then a few minutes later my energy would come back and doing good seemed like a possibility. Then I’d feel even better and the potential for winning would also return!

What are your goals for this year? Have you set them? Do they have meaning for you? Are there layers to them to help you weather the inevitable challenges that come along the way to something great?

Here’s a story of how I had to redefine purpose after a horrendous incident training in 1992.

Let us help you find your purpose at Mark Allen Coaching!

(This is the seventh in a 9-part series of blogs on tips to help you train and race at your best!)


  1. For me I switch #1 & #2

    Here is my race philosophy:
    #1—-get the most out of myself possible …. for IRONMAN this is a 1x or 2x per year horrendous effort …. those age-groupers who I know who I have seen try to do this kind of effort 3x in June through Oct. have not done very well in Oct. I know there are some who can do this but my best GUESS is most can’t.
    #2—-win … my age group is so small (I race this year as a 70 yr old) I have to win my qualifier to go to Kona & to win at Kona the right circumstances have to be present AND #1 HAS TO happen. Winning is a CONSEQUENCE of #1 AND the right circumstances (which I largely do not have control of). The GREAT Australian Swimming Coach Forbes Carlile (I think it was Forbes) once said, “Our goal is not to create Champions, our goal is to create a program (situation) where Champions are inevitable.” If I put in a great effort, occasionally the right circumstances present themselves.
    #3—-always finish unless medically unable to do so.
    #4—-post-race ALWAYS list the ways I might improve ….. many good Triathletes will say they learn more from a bad race than a good race …. being HONEST with yourself here is important.

    BTW I firmly believe if I get the most possible out of myself I have won ….. no matter the time or place ….. one has to be happy with this level of effort.

    Just my philosophy,


    1. So well said Rick! Indeed there are overlaps between the various levels of goals, and ultimately those amazing results are the byproduct of a focus on getting the most out of one’s performance without a ton of focus on what time or place that will get you!

  2. The pathway of self improvement and self discovery that propelled you beginning in 1992 can be reframed as the journey overshadowing the destination. Our greatest sense of satisfaction comes from the movement toward rather than the achievement of a goal. You called it your vision which is a living, breathing entity filling your sense of being. Goals are stationary like the goal post of a football game, the net on a soccer field, the victory in a race. The vision encompasses and brings to life everything that is necessary to reach the goal, the goal becoming secondary to the lived experience along the pathway. With time the goals change but the pathway of discovery and improvement remains.

    Aging in sport brings us face to face with the inevitable decrease in ability. Through age group designations triathlon allows us to measure our progress and movement along our path. Within the conversations before and after races are found both unique and shared stories of fellow athletes. We race to compete against ourselves and the limits we have set, we are inspired by those older and younger who establish new limits, and we celebrate our journeys with countless fellow travelers. A goal runs the risk of becoming sterile once achieved if it is considered a destination. A goal should motivate and give testimony that we are still on the pathway of self discovery and improvment, a pathway applicable to any life endeavor. And hopefully I won’t need to be hit by a truck, break my collar bone, pass out in the bathroom, smash my head on the toilet, and visit the ER twice in one day to come to the realization that I need a vision.

    1. So well said Greg! To paraphrase, “Strive to be inspired by a living vision rather than a goal, to be inspired by those both younger and older than ourselves who establish new limits.” Love it. Live it!

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