Back in November I got pretty fired up after reading blogger friend and fellow Coeur Sports teammate Kecia’s blog post, which talked about evaluating her 2014 triathlon journey in order to set S.M.A.R.T. goals for 2015. It inspired me so much, in fact, that I thought I’d do the same in anticipation of my own fitness planning for the upcoming year.
Using this article in USA Triathlon as her guide, Kecia addressed nine critical, but often overlooked, steps to effectively evaluating her season. As the author says, “Allowing your success to be determined solely by the finish line clock or your ranking is not fair to all the effort and time you invested. You deserve more credit than that.”
I couldn’t agree more. So as we all prepare to spend the next 360-odd days training for something (or a lot of things), take a stab at the questions below and see how your efforts from last year stack up. Be critical, be honest, but — above all — be open to changing tactics in order to see some strategic gains in 2015.
1. In hindsight, were your season goals clear and attainable?
Did you achieve what you set out to do at the start of the year? Knowing what you know now could you have aimed higher, or were you somewhat unrealistic in your expectations of your time, commitments or the physical skills you needed to develop? Use hindsight as a barometer for thinking ahead to next year and create goals that push you and inspire you to go for it.
My main goal was to PR in the marathon and finish in under four hours, which didn’t happen. My secondary goals were to tackle some new events, such as an Olympic triathlon and an ultramarathon in the process. Check and check. Although I was able to maintain a higher level of fitness throughout the year and dial in my nutrition during training and racing, I failed miserably at being able to do it injury-free.
In hindsight, I was overzealous in taking on a high-volume marathon training program after upping my racing frequency and without a proper pre-hab and rehab regimen in place. As a result, a few underlying issues — namely, plantar fasciitis, stiff ankles and weak glutes — caused me to compensate in other areas, and my training was cut short with a pre-stress fracture in my tibia.
2. What were you most proud of this season?
Was it the improvement you saw in your swim, bike and run splits? Or your dedication and ability to balance your other responsibilities around the sport? How you overcame setbacks and still performed at a high level? Think of the big things and the little moments that you look back on with pride and delight in what you accomplished.
Generally? Pushing my limits and being open to trying new things outside of road running.
Specifically? Well, a few things: First off, 2014 was the year I found #bikelove, having progressed from my first clipped-in ride to an Olympic triathlon to a 50-mile solo ride. Second, this year I got onto the trails, moving from the Bay Area’s ocean-side scenery to Portland’s lush green landscape. Off the roads, I was able to push my body farther than ever before (literally) in my first ultramarathon. And, finally, I’m proud that I took the necessary steps to finally discover what might be hindering me from reaching my running goals.
3. What would you like to duplicate next year?
Perhaps it’s working with the same coach or training plan, continuing to do a variety of races and taking on big challenges that excite you and motivate you to train consistently. Of the things that you really enjoyed, what would you like to be sure you experience again?
That statement above hit the nail on the head: Taking on big challenges that excite me and motivate me to train consistently. I love the thrill of accomplishing something I previously didn’t think was possible, plus learning something new in the process is icing on the cake. And in between, I found my sweet spot with varied and frequent cross training, which not only helps keep me functionally fit, but also prevents me from getting bored.
4. What frustrated or disappointed you the most this season?
Did you struggle to see consistent improvement in your speed? Fail to summon your determination when things got hard? Were you unable to overcome nagging injuries? What concerned you and took some of your energy away from the positive things?
The most frustrating part of my season was having to succumb to overuse injury, step back from my training plan and hold myself back from running all-out in my A-race, the Detroit Marathon. After a successful first half of marathon training (including a new 10k PR), I wasn’t able to see how it would ultimately translate to the marathon distance.
At the root of all of this are those underlying weaknesses, which were the most disappointing part. The truth was a hard pill to swallow: As much as I’d been training and (I thought) strengthening my body, I was going about it the hard way — not the smart way.
5. What do you not want to happen again next year?
Were you unprepared for some races and found you performed better in training than in racing? Did you take yourself and the sport too seriously, forgetting to have fun along the way? Look for insights from question four — things that you need to avoid in order to be at your best. Put emphasis and focus on things that you can control or influence.
Physically, I don’t want to ignore my blind spots. Now I know exactly where I need to focus; sure, a 20-mile training run or a mile done at a certain pace help, but I need to seek out the small wins — like ankle flexibility and glute activation — in order to build a strong foundation for success.
Mentally, I don’t ever want to “wing it” in a race. I should have known that I was avoiding open water during training for a reason, and next time I won’t wait for race-day to confirm why.
6. What did you learn by going through these experiences?
We all have good and bad days (and races and seasons) but what you take away from them can make all the difference the next time around. Despite the challenges or painful times, what valuable lessons did you learn? What meaningful lessons can you take forward as you build on your experience as an athlete? How can you catch yourself from slipping backward the next time you hit a rough patch?
I learned three valuable lessons this year: 1) More is not always more; sometimes it’s less about intensity and more about approach. 2) I’ve got a lot of grit from which I can draw, and that stubborn streak can sometimes work in my favor. 3) There’s nothing quite as enjoying or empowering as trying new things and expanding your skill set.
7. What decisions did you make that were empowering for you?
Think about the conscious decisions you made about what you committed to or improved: your nutrition, getting support from a coach or community, your approach to training and recovery, how you managed your life around your workouts, the number or frequency of races, etc. What were some of the most important decisions of the year for you, both related to triathlon and other parts of your life where relevant? And therefore, what decisions must you make for next season to experience even more success?
Pre-injury, the frequency of races allowed me to use some as training runs, which was an ideal means of tracking progress and made the mileage more fun. Post-injury, seeking outside help was a real turning point for my running.
Working with a PT allowed me to rehab correctly, troubleshoot issues and get to the start line of the Detroit Marathon. And although I haven’t had training guidance since high school, working with a run coach and having some frank discussions about goals, possibilities and reality was what got me across the finish line.
8. What habits seemed to hold you back from achieving your potential?
We all have them. Recurring ways of behaving and thinking which sometimes we realize — even when we know it’s not in our best interest — and sometimes we don’t. What causes you to skip training sessions? What do you tend to say to yourself during a race or training session, or when the alarm goes off before sunrise? In which ways has your diet been limiting your body’s potential? Where have you procrastinated or not been as disciplined as you’d like to be? Be really honest and list the items that you must change in order to achieve your goals.
Three habits I’d like to work on in 2015: 1) Not every workout needs to be all-out; don’t let my excitement to try something new or laser focus on a singular goal prevent me from taking time to let my body catch up to my training. 2) Don’t neglect pre-hab and rehab; ’nuff said. 3) Quit taking nutrition for granted; I’ve made progress with better consistency here in 2014, but can delve deeper into how what I eat affects my performance and my health.
9. What decisions should you make in order to have your best year ahead?
Building off your insights from all the previous questions, what will you continue to do, where do you need to get extra help, what will you stop doing? This is a critical step, take your time and identify the key decisions you need to make.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, 2015 needs to be about working smarter…not harder!
I need to work on my running form and strengthen my weak spots, particularly those stiff ankles and sleepy glutes. Before I get injured again. I need to keep challenging myself with Big Hairy Audacious Goals and keep things interesting by experimenting with new pursuits. But not get too overzealous in the process. I need to get my running under control, build on last year’s #bikelove, and tackle that open-water fear once and for all. Then sign up for another triathlon. I need to remain open to tools and/or outside help, which will allow me to train smarter, not harder, this year. And then kick butt.
Stay tuned for my 2015 goals…
What were your biggest lessons learned from 2014?