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How to Set and Reach Your Triathlon Stretch Goals

By Maria Netherland | Sept. 10, 2019, 2:30 p.m. (ET)

how to make good stretch goals

Plenty of definitions for stretch goals exist. The term crosses over between the corporate world and endurance sports. 

Stretch goals involve expectations that go beyond current capabilities. In simpler terms: a stretch goal is best defined as a goal that combines exceptional performance with high quality training and a really great day. Some people set stretch goals based on the people around them.

For example, plenty of athletes say, “I want to break four hours at my marathon” or “I want to go under 5:30 hour for my half-IRONMAN race” or “I want to win my age group at a sprint triathlon."

Following these examples, what would make these statements a stretch goal for you? Have you raced a marathon or half-IRONMAN race before or are these new endeavors for you? Do your times in the sprint race targeted have you on or close to the podium in a previous attempt?

It’s best to set stretch goals based on YOUR past performances — on what YOU’VE accomplished. Here is what that process might look like:

  • Based on your training so far, what do you and your coach agree you could reasonably do at a given race? Be specific with the race choice! Being simplistic in your choice of ‘sprint-distance’ or ‘Olympic-distance’ will not do. Target a specific race that you’ve either already completed or you’ve researched in depth.
  • What would your race performance be if you completed all training exactly as planned? Attach likely times to each sport and transition based on what you’ve done in training.
  • What if you completed all your training as planned and had remarkable race day conditions (calm, glass-like water, a tailwind on the bike and a cool run)? Attach likely times to each sport and transition based on what you’ve done in training.
  • Lastly, what if you had all the above AND all times were personal records (PRs)? What if you had a truly exceptional race day? What would that look like to you?

The answer to that last question is THE STRETCH GOAL.

Now, here’s how to get closer to reaching those stretch goals once you’ve set them! 

This boils down to a few things:

  • Are you doing what you need to do to get yourself in best position to achieve the stretch goal? In terms of our definition, are you becoming more CAPABLE of reaching your stretch goal?
  • What else can you and your coach set in place to give you the best chance of success?
  • What are you willing to sacrifice to get there? Meaning, what else can you do to put your money where your mouth is? 
  • Is reaching that stretch goal becoming more about your PERFORMANCE and less about race day conditions and a really great day?

These questions require you, the athlete, to take a hard, serious and truthful look at how you’re currently training and performing. Talk to your coach about metrics and how they’re measuring your training success to reach that stretch goal.

Then set a realistic and individualized stretch goal, give yourself every chance to succeed, and see what results!

Maria Netherland is a USAT Level IIE Coach and certified personal trainer. She’s been racing triathlons for twelve years and coaching athletes for eight years. She’s a Colorado native living in sunny Florida. Maria is a Coach with Team MPI. She can be reached at

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.