USA Triathlon News Blogs Multisport Lab Goal Setting for Suc...

Goal Setting for Success

By Marty Gaal | Jan. 30, 2019, 1:33 p.m. (ET)

Race Season Goals

Wouldn't it be great if every season, you could sit down and write out all your goals and ideal achievements for the year, then reach them with minimal effort and no interruptions to your lifestyle plan? Yes, it sure would be. But that's not realistic. Most of us don't succeed without foresight, planning, diligence, sweat and tears.

Any time of year is a good time to think about what you want to do, where you want to be, and who you want to go. Winging it might work once in a blue moon, but I wouldn't make winging it a cornerstone principle of success.

Items to consider as you set pen to paper and scribble out your 2020 (and onward) plans:


If running your business is a number-one priority, then everything else falls in line. It may be keeping your family happy, or doing well in school, or being the best triathlete you can be. Don't confuse yourself with conflicting priorities. Always work your way down the list and make your decisions based on these. In the long run, folks that attempt to prioritize everything can fall as flat as those that take on too little. It's easy to burn out and hard to rekindle a spent flame.

For each day and workout, you should also have a priority list. This needs to balance your personal, work, and athletic life. It is close to impossible to be a number-one dad, five-hour bike rider, and model employee every day of the week. Remember to be realistic about the give and take of your multiple selves.

Know yourself

If you are a horrible swimmer, don't expect to make the front of the pack in one season. If you can barely write a coherent sentence but want to be a bestselling author ... well, you have some work to do. Understand why you want to accomplish something. Don't delude yourself about your strengths and weaknesses.  

You also need to be realistic about your motivation level and what you’re willing to do to reach your goals. Almost every triathlete would like to qualify for Ironman Hawaii, but not everyone is willing to do the work required to meet that goal.

Set SMART goals

Specific: "I want to finish a marathon."

Measurable: "I want to finish a marathon under 5 hours."

Achievable: "Lots of people have run a marathon; so can I."

Realistic: "I ran a 10k under 1 hour last season."

Timely: "I want to run a sub-5 hour marathon by the end of this season."

Simply put, SMART goals provide a structure to the goal setting process. They will help you narrow down what you are willing and able to accomplish in a timely manner. You can read more here.

Deal with setbacks

Nothing ever goes exactly to plan. Life has a way of taking your perfectly-laid plans and twisting them up into a pretzel. Those who generally succeed navigate these twists and turns with a fresh outlook/response/readjustment to each. Sometimes these twists lead you to reassess your goals. That's not a bad thing. Your achievements are yours; you don't need to measure yourself with someone else's yardstick.

One of the most important traits of successful athletes, and successful people in general, is that they don’t give up. They learn from each failure and apply those lessons to the next challenge in order to move forward.

Own your mistakes

A great failure in life is to blame your mistakes on others and/or the environment. An honest analysis and assessment of what went right and what went wrong is key to the repetition of success (re: reduction in failure!). The best and brightest inventions are often the end result of hundreds or thousands of failed experiments. The best athletes in the world are beaten repeatedly as they improve their game.

It is not always the most fun conversation to have with yourself, but be honest about your mistakes. If you fail to recognize them, you will fail to learn from them.

I hope you have a tremendous racing season!

Marty Gaal is the co-owner and founder of One Step Beyond (OSB). Along with Coaches Bri Gaal and Daniel Scagnelli, OSB has been working with endurance athletes since 2002.

The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and not necessarily the practices of USA Triathlon. Before starting any new diet or exercise program, you should check with your physician and/or coach.