That light bulb that suddenly clicks in your head.
“I’ve got it! I am signing up for the San Francisco Marathon!”
“I’m going to climb The Nose on El Capitan!”
“ I am going to bike in the Tuscon Century (100 miles) this year!”
That one big daunting goal, the one you (often) impulsively decide to commit to.
These BIG goals are essential. They can show us that we are often capable of SO much more than we believe. They can also feel overwhelming, and sometimes impossible.
Last year, I moved to Mammoth Lakes, California. The town rests at 7,880 ft. in elevation. My first run in town was brutal. I went about a mile, and walked about half of that distance. My lungs burned; I felt like I couldn’t get a full breath. Worse, afterwards I developed a cough that lasted for about a week.
I kept running though, slowly building up to running about 4 miles without stopping. It always felt hard, I could never lose myself in the repetition like I used to be able to down at sea level.
About two months after living in Mammoth and running, my friend Alwyne Butlers mentioned that she did an ultra run along the Pacific Crest Trail from Tuolumne in Yosemite National Park to Mammoth Lakes. The run was an astounding 32 miles with about 4,100 ft. in elevation gain. The highest point was Donohue Pass (11,056 ft.). I decided, right then and there, I wanted to do that.
Only able to run a labored 4 miles at 8,000 ft. in elevation – this goal seemed daunting. It felt extremely far off – and almost impossible. SO I started to do things to break this down.
1) I created a timeline.
Since I was not doing this as a race, which would have already had a set date, I decided I needed to set my own date for the run. Something that felt like a DO-ABLE timeline, but would help keep me on track and focused during my training.
I set this goal in January 2015. My deadline was August 25, 2015. This gave me an eight month period to train and work towards this goal.
2) I recruited a friend to keep me accountable.
Let’s be clear: this isn’t always going to happen. It is SO much easier to train, when you have a friend working for the same goal. I often seek out friends to accompany me on my bigger goals. They help keep me accountable while we train and it makes it more fun.
I asked my friend Blake to do the actual Tuolumne to Mammoth run with me, an experienced ultra runner. Although we don’t live in the same city, and could not train together – he kept me accountable. I would send him a little message saying, “just ran 10 miles, felt strong!”. That being said, he would also send me a little message saying, “ran 20 miles today, planning on another 20 in three days.” I would then think to myself, “I’ve got to step it up!” By talking to each other in this way, we kept each other accountable and on track to accomplish our goal.
3) Break it into SMALL GOALS
After I set a big goal, I make a series of smaller goals to reach. My smaller goal list looked a bit like this:
- Run 6 miles along the Sherwin Lakes Trail three different times in March.
- Run 8 miles along the Convict trail head/road by April 15. (without stopping!!)
- Run 12 miles to Lake Mildred by May 10!
- Do a 15 miles run along Mammoth Crest by July 1
- Do a 20 mile run up and over McGee Pass by July 31
- Complete one 25 mile run before August 15. *need to find an accomplishable trail*
I celebrated each of these goals. When I finished my first 6 mile run along the Sherwin Lakes trailhead, I let myself feel beyond STOKED. I could feel progress.
I focused on each of the present goals instead of letting myself get wrapped up in the overwhelmingly big goal I was working towards. Each of these smaller goals are amazing in their own right, and need to be recognized.
Notice that all of my small goals are very specific. I have deadlines and locations for each of the runs and they were all accomplishable in my time frame for me.
Life happens. An incident at work or a nasty flu might cause you to alter your schedule. If you miss a deadline, don’t let it ruin your morale. Change the date to an accomplishable deadline and keep working towards these small goals.
I personally supplemented these smaller goals with big hikes and alpine climbing missions where I ran and hiked long distances. Other runners might create a weekly schedule for running mileage.
4) Ask a series of questions and research the answer to each one.
As the actual deadline got closer, I started to do some more research on how to break down this goal. I asked a series of questions like:
- What food to bring?
- How much water should I bring?
- How should I refill my water/ purify it?
- What layers should I wear and carry?
- What time should we leave?
- What kind of backpack should I carry?
- Will my shoes work for this trail run?
- How do we get back from the trailhead we end at (Devil’s Post Pile)?
- This included timing, a bus schedule, and a back up plan in case we were late.
To find the answers, I researched online, discovered them through trial and error during my training runs, and sought out other ultra runners who could give me their advice from personal experience.
For instance, during one of my first longer trail runs, I totally crashed around mile 12. I hadn’t been preemptive enough about eating and my blood sugar dipped and I lost the energy to continue. I had to stop and rest and eat a Clif bar before continuing. I discovered I needed to set a timer on my watch for each hour to remind myself to eat BEFORE I crashed.
(Blake Boles actually taught me the watch trick).
I am using my this run as an example, but using this format to accomplish big goals can work for anything from running, climbing, crossfit, biking, and more!
I accomplished this goal on August 25, 2015 with my good friend Blake Boles. It taught both of us that we were capable of so much more, and we both have set even bigger goals for this upcoming year.
Now GOOD LUCK and GO GET AFTER IT! You are capable! If you have any more specific questions about your specific goal, feel free to comment with additional questions and clarification.