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Setting Goals that Work for You

By Dr. Steve Jonas | Nov. 29, 2016, 12:51 p.m. (ET)

Ordinary Mortals

As my regular readers know, this is one of my favorite themes/topics, one that I have turned to on a regular basis for just about as long as I have been writing about our sport. For I think that doing so — that is setting goals that work for you — is the key to having fun in the races, whether you are fast, slow or in between. As I have said many times, if they are to work for you, the central element is that the goals that you set have to be rational and realistic, for you. 

Is the goal to win the race, to win your age group, to set a PR in a particular race, to qualify for an Worlds, to make the time limit, to simply finish, happily and healthily, saying to yourself “I had fun out there today!” And remember: it’s not someone else’s goals that count. It’s yours.

Last summer I heard a talk by a top triathlete, a multiple-time champion at a variety of distances, both on and off the road, over many years. The talk began with a video of a championship race finish. The top two finishers of the run came down to the wire, working as hard as they could, the pain of the strain written all over their faces. They were literally neck-and-neck and the finish was almost like one sees at the end of 100 or 200-meter dash, one of them hitting the tape just before the other one did.

A couple of meters behind them came the third-place finisher. Moving right along, obviously having gone almost as fast as the top two for the whole of the course, this person looked quite relaxed and was actually smiling. Now I am very often smiling when I cross the finish line, but I am way at the end of the pack. I am smiling both because I’m very happy to see that finish line and more often than not, I’ve had fun in the race. And then at Nationals, as long as I have made the time limit, given the (small) size of my age-group (I did age up to the 80-84 this past season), I will have qualified for the next year’s Worlds. But here’s a competitor in a championship race, finishing third, not first or second, coming across the line not straining at all and sporting a huge smile.

Though the speaker questioned the athlete’s effort, there are alternative explanations for the smile and relaxed finish from a professional triathlete, whose expectations are at times quite different compared to those of an age-grouper. 

For example, looking at the competitors, this racer might have sized up the whole top-end competition for that race and said “man, there’s simply no way that I can beat either of the top two. I’ve raced them a number of times, and that’s just not in the cards for me. But looking at the rest of the field, I do have a good shot at finishing third. And boy, a podium finish for a championship race would really be the highlight of the season for me. So, let’s set our sights on that. That would be great.”

Well, that’s what this racer got.  A podium finish, with a lovely relaxed finish, even at that speed on the course. And a smile a mile wide.  Here was a happy and healthy finish, for the racer’s goal, not someone else’s, had been met.

This series of thoughts and recommendations about multisport racing by Dr. Steve Jonas is, over time, drawn in part from his book, "101 Ideas and Insights for Triathletes and Duathletes" (Monterey, CA: Healthy Learning/Coaches Choice, 2011), from which text is used with permission. The book can be purchased here and is available at and

Steve’s most recent multisport book is "Duathlon Training and Racing for Ordinary Mortals®: Getting Started and Staying with It" (Guilford, CT: Globe Pequot Press/FalconGuides, 2012), available at and

His first book on multisport racing, "Triathloning for Ordinary Mortals®" 2nd Ed. (New York: WW Norton, 2006) also can be found at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Dr. Jonas recently was featured in World Class Magazine. Click here to read the article.