Race Goals: “ABC” or just an “A”?

Race Goals: “ABC” or just an “A”?

Over a recent conversation with Coach Mike, he mentioned that part of racing is learning how not to quit. That made me think of races and goals. (This is more of a rambling thinking out aloud post than a definitive answer post). 

Race Goals
A B C Goals

Race Goals –  A ton of what I’ve read and been advised is to have ABC goals in a race. Why so many goals for a single race? The idea is to have a perfect day A goal, backup plan B goal and finishing/learning C goal. Chicago 2011 my first marathon had race goals, so did New Orleans 2012 and Chicago 2012 before the flu derailed everything. 

Then there is “quitting“. The word “not to quit” means different things to different people in different situations. It could simply mean hanging in there, moving forward when race day has battered you. It could mean desperately digging deep to hang on to a pace. It could mean showing up, day after day, with that ultimate goal in your mind. I don’t give up. There is no option to quit, the only variable that is dependent on my giving up is the margin of success (For example – in a perfect racing scenario will it be a +30 seconds or +2 minutes better than goal time.)

Here is where I think it becomes a bit blurry for me. 

When is it ok to have an ABC goal and how do you not fall back to lesser goals when the going gets tough, because by defining lesser goals you have given yourself permission to fall back and quit on your A goal? 

For example – In the Peachtree 10k, coach gave me only one race goal. Either I met that goal, or I didn’t. Same thing with the Georgia Publix Half Marathon and Pittsburgh Half Marathon. There was no “If you are not able to do xx:xx pace at mile z, fall back to yy:yy pace” – a “B” goal. In either of the races, if I had had a “B” goal, it would’ve been way too easy to fall back to the B because my body always protests when I push it, and if the mind gives it permission to fall back, it will. I came close to a “B” in the Peachtree 10k, but there wasn’t a B goal, so I stuck to the only goal I had. 

At the New Orleans Marathon where I PRed by 30min with 5:45 finish, my “A” goal was a 5:35-5:38 finish. I had trained for that all winter, but changed to “B” of 5:45 after just 10 miles on race day because I got afraid of the temps in upper 70s (that was the first hottest day after a long cold winter). If I had had no “B”, would I still have pursued my “A” until I could either successfully see it to the finish or until I blew up?

When is it ok to have an ABC goal?

How do you set the “A” goal to be realistic so it is achievable with a hard well fought race and not doomed from the start or too conservative to begin with?

Are B and C goals tangible or are they just a “if I slow down” goals with a “just finish” option.

When is it ok to fallback to your B or C goal?

At what point is falling back “quitting” vs. reassessment? 

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  • Summer

    Most of the races I only had one goal that I thought was doable. And fortunately for my self-esteem I did reach them. For my longest race to date, the Austin 10/20, I had ABC goals. My A goal was ridiculous for me and I knew I would not make it (1hr 50min for a 10 mile race). My B goal was to finish in under 2 hours which I squeaked by with 1hr and 59min. I can’t remember what my C goal was but it was in case something like a cramp or GI distress happened.

    In the future I will continue to have 1 goal for races I am confident in but for new distances or my first triathlon I will have ABC goals with A being the one that could only happen under perfect conditions (The entire race was downhill and I didn’t have to stop for a potty break once!), B being reasonable but still having to push myself, and my C goal allowing for mishaps. This forces me to push myself but allows me to not hate myself if I don’t reach my top goal.

    If the B goal was at an easy pace I could see how that would trick your brain into thinking it was okay to slack off when the going gets tough. And the going almost always gets tough. 🙂

  • I’ve never thought of having a B goal as giving yourself permission to slack off – it’s a matter of recognizing that race day isn’t always perfect. If you truly set a stretch goal, that’s based on all things going right – which means there’s also a fair chance that won’t happen. To me, a B (or even C) goals means I have motivation to keep pushing to a secondary goal and not let the first one ruin my day! 🙂

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