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Goal setting: Looking forward to the season and a suntan

By Dave Palese

If you live in the northern hemisphere, you are probably entering the thick of your training plan, preparing yourself for the coming racing season. If you live in the southern hemisphere, may you be cursed with many flats on your next training ride!

Here in Maine, USA, Mother Nature has delivered us a wintry blast, complete with twice as much snow in the last week as we got in the whole of last year. Such unridable conditions force one to daydream about warmer days to come. A perfect time to start setting goals for the coming season.

Here are some guidelines for setting your goals for the coming season:

1. Goals should be realistic. If you have been having trouble finishing rides or races with the group, setting a goal to place in the top five of a race you have never finished with the group would probably be too aggressive at this point in time. There are goals for every level of rider - you just have think about them.

2. Goals should be measurable. Goals are clear and quantifiable. When you set goals, there should be some way you will be able to measure your success. You should be able to say: "I did 'x', so I achieved my goal."

3. Goals should be challenging. Your goals should stretch you and push you to greater heights. Goal setting is intended to help you improve. If your goals aren't challenging, you won't see many gains.

4. Your goals should be YOURS. One of the most common mistakes I see a lot of riders make is that of acquiring some else’s goals. Your goals have to motivate you. Your goals need to help you get on your bike when it is cold and wet; when it’s 5:30 in the morning; when you get off track due to sickness or injury. If you start working towards someone else’s goal, you're setting yourself up for failure.

Why set goals?

Setting goals is the first step toward improving as a cyclist. Goals give you direction and purpose in everything you do. Just as a successful business has goals that define its business strategy, successful athletes have to set goals to define their training strategy and plan.

Goals can be long and short term

When you start setting your goals, set both long term (what you'd like to achieve in three years) and short term (what you'd like to achieve this season). I have my riders think about their longer term goals first. By doing so, many short term goals become predetermined and have context.

If a rider is presently a Category 4 rider and has a long term goal to upgrade to Category 2 over the next three seasons, it becomes instantly clear what needs to be accomplished between now and then, and it is very easy at that point to set up a plan to get that rider there.

Goals and plans change all the time

The goals you set now in January may change come May. Your fitness may have improved to a point you didn't initially expect. So setting more aggressive goals maybe the best route to continuing your rise to the head of the peloton. Likewise, setbacks like sickness, extended travel for work and injuries can affect your plan too. Let's not talk too much about those now (think positive!).

Goals need to be things that you are able to control

Reason being, if achieving your goal could be overly influenced by forces out of your control, you are setting yourself up for failure before you even get started.

A good example: Avoid setting outcome goals, like winning races.

Why, you ask? Keeping in mind that you should have control over meeting your goals, winning a race is not really a sound goal because you could do everything right up till the very end of the race and get second because another rider had better legs that day. So you leave the race getting second. If your goal was to win, was the ride a failure, and was all your preparation ineffective?

Don't get me wrong, you should always be playing the game of cycling to win, either on a personal level or on the team level. But by setting your goals that are more reasonable you are creating a larger window for success.

So start thinking about your goals. When you have a clear destination, the route you take usually the shortest one. And if you are getting ready to head out for a ride in hot summer sun, remember to take extra tubes.

Dave Palese is a USA Cycling licensed coach and masters' class road racer with 16 years' race experience.

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