USA Triathlon News Blogs Ordinary Mortals® Setting Goals that S...

Setting Goals that Suit You

By Dr. Steve Jonas | June 05, 2017, 5:58 p.m. (ET)

Talking Tri-/Duathlon for Ordinary Mortals®: A Series, (No. 44, 2017/06)

A while back a journalist working on a triathlon publication decided to do his first triathlon, along with several fellow staff-members, some of whom were experienced triathletes. He experienced a mixed bag of results, which he happened to discuss with me.

He finished! Great! He finished in one piece. Great! He finished ready to try it again.  Great! And he finished within his time goal. He reported that he was “thoroughly prepared physically and excited about how everything was going to turn out.” The swim “went well” (although he lost his goggles during T1). He “rode the bike course better than [he] thought [he] would and felt good entering T2.” Then he hit the run, which he described as a “jog a little, walk a lot.” He felt bad about that. (How many of us have never experienced that sensation? Hands, please.) Nevertheless, he finished under the overall time goal he had set for himself.  

So, he felt “Great,” right? Wrong. “I could have beaten my goal by more than five minutes,” he wrote. He realized that he should not have beaten himself up for not achieving a time goal that he had not set for himself. But somehow, he still felt bad. He felt that he needed to “redeem himself,” but unfortunately in that season there just was not another race in which he could do that. He subsequently moved on in his employment (outside the triathlon world) and I don’t know whether he ever did another triathlon.

What lessons we all might learn from his experience? First, he trained properly for the swim and the bike and even though he had to walk some, he trained right for the run too, for he bested his original time goal. Second, while many beginners do not, experienced readers of this column know that the logistics of our sport are complex. Even experienced triathletes make logistics mistakes on a regular basis. For example, I have been racing for 34 seasons. More than once I have, for example, left my helmet back in transition as I was going out on the bike. I have lists, I lay out my stuff with care, I try before each race to get focused, on transition as well as on the race itself. And I still screw up on occasion. Thus, I always advise newcomers to the sport to make one of their goals for their first several races getting used to the logistics of both planning for and doing the races.  

Third, I always advise beginners to keep their goals simple. For the first few races I recommend not setting any time goals at all. Most of us will eventually to want to set time-goals. But when you are starting out in the sport, give yourself some time to get to that point. And remember. There’s always another race, even if it is next year.  

But the most important lesson here is about goals and goal-setting. Most of us do this for fun. You have more control of your goals than you do of your performance on a given day. Unless you do have to make a certain time or finish ahead of certain people in order to qualify for a next step, why not set goals that you are pretty sure you will be able to achieve? That makes it so much easier to have fun. This suggestion applies whether you are fast, slow, or in-between. Whether they are designed to stretch you out in terms of performance or designed to get you across the finish line simply feeling good and feeling good about yourself, your goals should be both reasonable and realistic. And if you do achieve them, for heaven’s sake don’t feel bad because you didn’t achieve some other goal you didn’t even set at the outset, like my friend did. Goals should be there to work for us.  We shouldn’t be there to work for the goals. So it’s a really good idea to set goals that suit us all ‘round, don’t you think? I surely do.


This column is based on one that originally appeared in USAT Life, Vol. 11, No. 2, Spring, 2008.

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.