The importance of setting milestones

Have you ever embarked on a new training or fitness regime, only for the early enthusiasm to dissolve into demotivation and disillusion? For some people, this happens in the days after the first session, for others it takes a rhythm breaker like holiday, illness or injury. Demotivation and disillusionment are common issues in training for even the most experienced runners.

Avoiding this is simple; understand what you want to achieve and, importantly, why you want to achieve it. Spending time setting your milestones at the outset, even at the sacrifice of going for a run will save you time later as you procrastinate ahead of a run you’re not motivated for.

So, how do you set a milestone?

Milestone setting for established athletes can be straight forward. It’s often related to performance as measured by time – to achieve a personal best over a certain distance. For new or returning runners, it’s rarely this clear. You might have health-based milestones (like weight loss or perhaps getting fit again after having children), you might have community based milestones (raising money for charity or meeting new people), or you might have self-achievement based milestones (like completing your first 5k or marathon). All equally valid.

In each case, quantifying the milestone is crucial, as is setting a deadline on meeting it. For example, for someone new to running looking to lose weight, we might set a goal of running continuously for 30 minutes in three months, or for an established athlete it might to be complete the Virgin London Marathon in less than 3 hours marathon. This quantified specificity is important in forming an appropriate training plan. Sounds easy huh? Milestone setting is not as easy as it sounds. First of all, it requires discipline because it forces you to be honest about what you are capable of committing to given practical (e.g. time and other commitments) and physical (fitness and health) limitations. For example, setting a milestone of running a marathon in 2 months if you have only 1 hour a week to train and have never run before is likely to quickly lead to demotivation.

Furthermore, it’s not easy because being truly honest with yourself is brave. Few people like to admit limitations, and equally few like to stretch too far into the unknown. Doing either requires courage and as the Lion in the Wizard of Oz will testify to, courage is hard to come by. But it makes a huge difference so in the absence of an Emerald City at the end of the yellow brick road, how can we find it?

Through any training programme, any run, and any race, there will be moments of self-doubt; especially as you stretch yourself into the unknown. At these moments, return to why you are doing it in the first place. If your milestone is to complete your first 10k, why is that important to you? If it is to raise money for charity, why did you choose that charity? If it is to complete a personal best, why is that important to you?

Often the answers to these questions lie in other people. For example, many people choose to run a marathon to raise money for a charity that has personally touched them, perhaps someone close to you has suffered in some way. In which case, make that person become your motivation, your reason to keep going when your body is hurting and you feel like quitting.

If your milestone is time-based, who are you trying to show your capability to? Often it can be a partner, children, parents, friends (or people that have said you couldn’t do it). When you’re deep into a run and feel like stopping, learn to stop thinking about the discomfort and start thinking about how proud those people will feel and how proud that will make you feel. When it gets hard, go back to the reason you’re doing it in the first place.

Setting your milestones is obviously important but understanding the motivation behind them gets you halfway to meeting them. The other half? Well, that’s what a coach and a specific training programme are for.

May demotivation and disillusionment never darken your door again.

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