The value 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 a holiday, illness or injury but the effect is just the same. 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, most 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 – usually to achieve a personal best over a certain distance. For new or returning runners, it’s rarely this clear. You might have the following type of milestones:

Health-based milestones (like weight loss or perhaps getting fit again after having children)

Community-based milestones (raising money for charity or meeting new people)

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 complete the Virgin London Marathon in less than 3 hours. 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 outside of your comfort zone and 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 does that matter?
Let’s return to courage for a moment. The word courage stems from the Latin for ‘heart; cor (no, not cor as in cor blimey, cor as in latin for heart!). Quite simply, to be brave, to really understand why our milestones are important we have to search in our hearts not in our heads, we have to rely on emotion not reason. 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? Many people say it’s just to themselves and this can be the case, but on further exploration it’s usually a partner, children, parents, friends or even those annoying colleagues that have said you couldn’t do it that really drive you on.
When you’re deep into a run and it’s hurting and your head is telling you to stop, learn to stop thinking about the discomfort by starting to think about how you will feel when you hit your milestone. When it gets hard, allow your heart to rule your head, go back to the emotions that sit behind why you’re doing it in the first place. Practice doing this in training and you will be able to do the same in your races. (NB if you want to learn more aboit how to do this, we are holding some workshops in the new year to discuss this very issue….add link here)
Setting realistic and achievable milestones is obviously important but understanding the motivation behind them is actually what gets you halfway to meeting them. The other half? Well, that’s what a coach and a specific and bespoke training programme are for.
Now, these principles are written with running in mind but they apply equally well to any other personal Milestone in work or in the rest of your life. Don’t take my word for it though, test it out. Think of one of your non running objectives, re-read this and replace the references to running with references to your own milestone. You’ll see that courage is required in all walks of life.

Go on, be brave.

May demotivation and disillusionment never darken your door again.

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