Category Archives: Half-Marathon

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?


I want to BQ, too

I’ve been wanting to write this post for a while, but fear held me back.

Fear of judgement (mostly me judging myself), fear of setting myself up for failure or embarrassment…

But honestly if I can’t write out my big, scary goals on my personal blog, then I’m already setting myself up for failure. I was also inspired by this post and this post. I love how easily/openly Christina and Caitlin talked about their goals. That’s the way you achieve great things! Putting it out there and then doing the work to get what you want.

So here it is: I want to qualify for the Boston marathon.

For someone with a marathon track record of 5:08:12 and a personal best time of 4:47:24, a part of me feels ridiculous to allow myself to hope that I can qualify for Boston someday. But, I’ve been dreaming about it for a couple of years, and last year was the first time where I felt like it could maybe become a reality some day.

I know there are other goals out there aside from the elusive (for average runners like myself) BQ. I get it – the marathon isn’t the only distance out there. There are plenty of other goals in different race distances that are just as difficult to strive for. Last year, I learned the hard way how humbling a 5K race could be. But from what I hear, the Boston race atmosphere is amazing and must be experienced in person. While I already plan to attend as a spectator, I really want to experience the race as a participant as well.

For a previously non-active, sendentary person like me, it would be (pardon my language) a pretty big fucking deal.

After my disastrous marathon attempts in 2010 and again in 2011, I wrote off the distance as “impossible for me”. Running a marathon (well) was out of my league, and I thought I was done with marathons for good. And then I met Mike. 🙂 He started to make me believe that I was capable of more than I had allowed myself to hope for. He got me thinking that successful racing went beyond “just being fast”. There’s a mental fitness that goes hand in hand with being physically fit and capable of racing to the best of your ability.

So that was my focus of last year – building confidence, getting mentally stronger, training smart and trusting in the process. Oh, and being patient! Being patient sucks!

So what exactly is my plan?

Well, my plan is to continue getting faster. A big lesson for me last year was learning to train at the fitness level I was currently at, rather than where I wanted to be at. I honestly used to think if you wanted to be fast, you just had to train fast and your body would adapt. Wrong. That was my approach in 2010-2012 and I was rewarded with a fantastic stress fracture and chronic aches and pains that I couldn’t seem to get rid of. So, I took a step back and focused on training consistently, even if that meant training at paces slower than where I was hoping to be at. I also took a break from training for long distance races (half and full marathons) and tried to work on my speed. Last year was a good year worth celebrating; I made it to all my races injury-free and managed a PB in every distance that I ran.

What is my goal race?

I don’t exactly have one. I’m registered for the Berlin marathon this coming Fall. I threw my name into the lottery and was lucky enough to get in. It would be great if I could try to BQ in Berlin, but realistically, I don’t think I’ll be there yet. My current half PR is 1:45:17. I’d have to run that pace for double the distance in order to qualify for Boston. Just saying that feels incredibly intimidating and scary.

So no, I don’t expect to BQ in Berlin. Maybe if I have super and fantastic training cycles between now and then with perfect race day conditions where absolutely nothing goes wrong and I don’t hit a wall… then maybe it could happen. But, that would be an A++++++ goal. And that is asking a lot out of the universe. 🙂 I want to get to the start line of Berlin healthy and race it to best of my ability. From there, I’ll assess how far away I am from the qualifying standard. It could take years. I may have to “age” into the next qualifying standard bracket. We’ll see.

But I’m going to try my hardest and someday I’ll be able to look back on these blog posts and remember that I had the guts to try.


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