Pre Race Goal Assessment

You can probably tell exactly where my mind is focused based on this week’s posts. The Portland Marathon is in just a week and a half, although I’m not psyching myself out about the race yet. Throughout this training cycle, I’ve adopted the mentality of taking training just one day at a time and sometimes even just one mile at a time. I still have a 10-mile marathon pace run (plus warm up and cool down) for today and several mid-distance runs until the race, so I’m just taking those each as they come. So far, this strategy has worked well for me: I don’t get anxious about workouts days in advance and I don’t stress about whether or not I’m going to hit paces or complete the run as much, and that mental approach has benefited my workouts significantly compared to my last training cycle. 

Today I want to talk about pre-race goal assessment. Whether you are running a 5K or an ultramarathon, your first race or your 50th, most runners set goals for their races. These goals are usually established at the start of training. However, every runner can benefit from pre-race goal assessment to ensure the highest probability for success on race day.

How and Why to a Pre Race Goal Assessment


What Your Training Indicates

One of the sagest pieces of advice for all levels of runners is to trust your training. If you’re following a reputable training plan (such as Hidgon, Hansons, Pfitzinger, Runner’s World, etc) or working with a certified running coach, your training place will provide you with all the workouts needed so that you possess the speed and endurance to complete your chosen distance. Trusting your training also applies to goal setting: your times in training don’t lie.

Including goal pace workouts to your training provides an honest assessment of your current race-specific fitness. If you struggle each and every time to hit the pace, your goal may be too fast. On the other hand, if you fly through these workouts, you are easily on track to achieve your goal and possibly even surpass it on race day. Your race-specific workouts (long runs for half and full marathoners, shorter repeats for 10K and 5K runners) will give you the best indication of what you can achieve on race day.

Mental State and External Stress

It’s not just your physical fitness that determines your finish time; your mental state directly impacts how you run. If you’re exhausted from a busy semester at school or a demanding project at work or if you’ve recently endured a death in the family or a break-up, you may want to adjust your goals so you don’t add additional stress to your life by worrying about a specific finish time. Let running be your stress release and not a stressor.

Your confidence it yourself directly influences how well you perform on race day. There’s a reason that many coaches focus heavily on mental training and sports psychology. If self-doubt has plagued you throughout training, you want to factor that into your pre-race goal assessment at well. You want to truly believe in yourself if you are chasing a big goal. This doesn’t mean you should foster delusions of grandeur into pursuing a goal above your abilities; it means you must possess the faith in your ability to push yourself to your very limits and achieve challenging goals.

Pre-Race Goal Assessment

The Weather

You can be in prime shape to smash your marathon PR, but the weather can prevent you from doing so. Think of the 2014 New York City Marathon or the 2015 Boston Marathon and how those conditions affected even the elite runners. High winds, heavy rain, and hot temperatures all increase the energy demands of running, which make it harder to sustain the same pace. If your race day forecast predicts inclement weathers, considering reassessing your goals or planning to run by effort instead of pace.

Granted, the weather is not the be-all, end-all in determining your finish time. If you’ve trained in similar conditions, you are better adapted to running in the wind, humidity, or rain. A strong mental game and good pacing strategy can also set you up for success despite the weather. In my first half marathon, it was freezing cold (literally, I think it was 30 degrees at the start) and the brutal Lake Michigan winds raged a headwind for the last 5 miles of the race. Still, I managed to surpass my goal my 3 minutes and run a strong 1:46 for my first half marathon. I was used to running in those winds, so it was simply mind of matter!

Injuries and Overall Health

First off, if you are injured, experiencing pain, or sick, please do not run a race! Your overall health is more important than any race. If you’re experiencing minor injuries, or what many of us runners like to call “niggles,” you may still be able to run your race, but you may want to reassess your goals so that you don’t transform that niggle into an injury that will sideline you for months. Amanda at Run to the Finish has a useful post about how to decide if you DNS (do not start), DNF (do not finish), or push through on race day.

Issues such as excessive fatigue, digestive issues, or symptoms of overtraining are also something to consider as you conduct a pre-race goal assessment. Again, you don’t want to risk your overall health just to reach a time goal; it’s a sign of stronger character to wisely weigh your risks than to push yourself recklessly. 

By examining all of these factors in the few days before a race, you can set smart goals for your race that will set you up for both short-term and long-term success and an enjoyable race experience. That should be our biggest goal, after all—to enjoy the fruits of our training! 

[Tweet “Why and how you should do a pre-race goal assessment via @thisrunrecipes #fitfluential #sweatpink #runchat”]

Questions of the Day:
When do you set your goals for a race?
How much does the weather impact your race day performance?

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13 Responses

  1. The weather always plays a big role in my race day performance- I think one of my most difficult marathons was Raleigh when I trained in the cold all winter and then raced on the first hot day of the year. I definitely had to adjust my goals that way! Its so true that life events can be a big factor in performance and can sometimes be a reason to back off our training/race goals.

    1. Racing on the first hot day of the year sounds so hard, especially after brutal winters like we’ve had the past few years! Nothing like the weather to keep us all humble on our running!

  2. I usually have my goal set prior to starting training. I think having a goal whether it be related to a time or strategy helps to keep us working with our eyes on the prize (and finish line). At least this is the case for me. Weather can definitely play a role in my race day performance especially if its hot and humid. I have learned that my body just doesn’t perform at the same level in these conditions so I need to remember that. Your marathon is SO CLOSE! Enjoy the taper and you’re going to rock it!

    1. It is definitely beneficial to start with a goal – that motivation is so important! Then assessing it mid-way is just fine-tuning it from there 🙂 Hot and humid races are so rough – it’s just not good running weather. And thank you, Angie! 🙂

  3. I like to set goals at the beginning of a training cycle to help shape my conditioning, but then I like to re-evaluate about a month out! I would have said weather has a huge impact on racing, but after running Boston in horrible conditions and not having a miserable race, I think it’s more about mental preparations and attitude than weather! So excited for your race 🙂

    1. That’s a really smart way to approach your race goals! I really do think mental plays a huge part in weather, especially if it’s cooler temperatures where overheating isn’t a concern. East Coasters like you and Midwesterners are probably the strongest at tackling bad race weather, while I’ve already noticing the PNW softening my tolerance to weather.

  4. You know, I can handle any type of weather except wind. Well, and if there’s ice on the ground, of course. But besides that, I hate hate hate HATE running in the wind!!! If I trained for four months, paid for registration and showed up on race day and had a strong headwind, I honestly can say that I would just get back into my car and go home LOL!

    1. I don’t blame you – especially with the hills in the BC and PNW where the wind would just blow us back down those hills! It’s like repeatedly getting punched in the stomach.

  5. I set my marathon goals before I begin the training cycle, since that determines what pace I need to do my key workouts like MP runs. I think it’s important to keep in mind that your fitness will improve throughout the training cycle, so even if MP is a little difficult in the first few weeks it doesn’t necessarily mean your goal is too hard. It can be tricky to suss out the difference between just-starting-training hard and legitimately too hard, but I think as long as you made realistic goals based on race times and/or reputable sources for calculation, don’t get discouraged if MP feels a little outside your comfort zone at first.

    Before I started my last training cycle, I was talking to a running acquaintance and sub-3:00 marathoner who told me that a good rule of thumb for goal setting is to improve your marathon performance by 5% over your best effort. For me, this translated to taking roughly 12 minutes off my time and finishing just under 3:50. This ended up being a perfect goal for me: challenging and scary, but in the end I knew if I worked hard enough it was possible for me.

    Weather is definitely a huge factor in goal adjustment for me. My problem is that once I have my heart set on a goal, and trained months for it, I feel so discouraged having to settle for a lesser time even if it’s not my fault. I think it’s really hard to train so hard for something only to have it come down to freak weather or “just not my day.” But that’s life, I guess!

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