Defining A, B and C Goals

This morning, Mike and I got into quite a discussion about setting A, B & C goals. It made me realize that although they are similar in theory, there are subtle differences in how we define them.

When I first started running, my only goal was to finish. I didn’t have enough confidence to set any kind of time goals. I remember thinking that a 2 hour half-marathon sounded cool (because of the nice round number, obviously), but I didn’t know how to work out what kind of pace I’d need to achieve that and just ran my first half-marathon at what felt like a conservative pace that I hoped I could hold for the entire race. I crossed the line in 2:09:47 and was really proud of myself. I considered a 2 hour half-marathon my A-goal, but even I knew that it was probably a little too ambitious for that day. Still, it was a time floating in my head and I kept it there until I eventually reached it a few years later.

Now, I do set time goals. For the longest time, I would go into a race with only one arbitrary best case scenario. I would claim that I had three time goals, but the truth was that I’d only be happy if I hit my best case scenario goal. Unfortunately for Mike, I often fell short of my best case scenario time goal so he had to do a lot of post-race damage control for my bruised ego. These days, I like to think I’ve gotten better at being realistic. I have an idea of where I want to be based on how my training is going, but since I never know how the entire training cycle is going to go, I try not to get too ahead of myself and I wait until my coach sends me my race plan before I really make concrete plans.

I know everybody is different, but I’ve found setting concrete time goals and committing myself to them a quick way to get disappointed. I tend to set goals that usually turn out to be a touch unrealistic for me, and that’s mostly why I choose not to ask my coach to train me for a specific time but instead let him tell me what I should be aiming for. It means I train for months in suspense, but it also means that I can rest assured that whatever he sets for me is something I feel confident that I CAN achieve on a good day. It also means that I spend months theorizing and obsessing on my own about what could be, but that’s neither here nor there. 😉

Now that we’ve been working together for over a year, I trust his opinion. In the beginning, I would often feel disappointed if he gave me a goal time that I thought I could do better than. But after a few humbling race experiences where I fell short of his goals, I decided to check my ego at the door and trust his judgment and the process. As long as I keep working and training at my current fitness level, I will continue progressing (this is what I tell myself, anyway). I’m (patiently, but also not patiently) waiting for the day he gives me a time goal that will set me up nicely for a BQ. It has to happen someday, right!?

Getting back time to time goals, my first ever run coach sent an email out a during my half-marathon training clinic about setting them that I refer to it often, especially before a big goal race. I think she summed everything up so nicely that I wanted to share (her words are in bold font).

The Dream Goal – this is an achievable, but difficult goal. It’s your perfect, best day ever day goal. Do not start your pacing based on this goal. If at 10K you know that you are not running to your full potential you can gradually pick up the pace to meet this goal … but be warned, days like this don’t happen often (although when they do it is amazing!). Dream goals are usually those arbitrary goals within a few minutes of your predicted goal time (for example a predicted finish time might be 2.03 and a dream finish time 1.59; the difference is around 15 sec/km).

This is my A goal.
The goal that I know is a little out of reach, but still within my realm of possibility if the stars are aligned and absolutely everything goes well on race day. I get that these types of races don’t happen often (in fact, I don’t really think this has ever happened for me yet!), but I consider it a dangling carrot to keep me motivated while I’m out there.

The Predicted Goal – the goal predicted by your past running performance (e.g. your tune-up run and your training runs). This is the goal that you use to establish your race plan. Most of you will start out pacing with this goal.

This is my B goal.
The most realistic goal that I have. Usually, I set this to whatever time goal my coach gives me. I still know that I have to have a pretty stellar day to achieve this, and this is where I’ll base my entire pacing plan on. I know it isn’t the type of time goal that I “deserve” and that I will have to put in the work to earn it.

The Minimum Goal – a goal you can expect to meet even on the worst day ever. If this is your first half marathon your minimum goal should be upright and smiling! More experienced runners can typically maintain their LSD pace as a minimum goal, even under difficult conditions. If you are injured, sick, undertrained, or the conditions are adverse (e.g. hot) start out pacing based on your minimum goal.

This is my C goal.
This is the minimum time that I will be happy with. I have trouble being honest with myself and setting this goal, because it’s really hard to know how badly you’ll do on a less than ideal race day. But, I try my best to be realistic when I set this one.

The range of time goals does different by the race distance, but also on how confident I am. For my STWM half-marathon last fall, my time goals were more spaced apart than they were for the Bentley half-marathon last month. I guess I was more confident for the Bentley half, and even though I achieved my C goal, my A and B goals were all within a minute or two of each other anyway, so I wasn’t devastated when I didn’t hit my two other goals. For STWM, my time fell somewhere between my A and B goal time range, so I was pretty ecstatic when I crossed the finish line even if I didn’t hit my “dream goal”.

If you’re reading this, I’m genuinely curious – how do you set your time goals for races? And are you realistic about them or do they all mesh together into one ultimate time goal?


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