Over the years, I’ve discovered that I’m not so good at setting and following through with small goals. More often than not, I flake out on them or replace them with other goals, seemingly on a whim. I am better with higher level goals, ones that are a little nebulous but that allow me to set and sometimes abandon smaller, related goals along the way. In other words, I need more of a purpose-driven approach to my goal-setting.
My running goals are no different. I get into a zone where I’m all “I’m going to run a half marathon” or “yeah, this is the year for a marathon” or “hell, let’s try an ultra next”. To me, these are all “small t” training goals. I don’t mean the events themselves or the work required to get there is small. By “small t” training goals, I mean these goals have little meaning to me in and of themselves. They are events. They come and they go. They are important only because they represent or contribute to something much bigger.
What they represent are steps toward my “Big T” training goals. What’s a “Big T” training goal, you might ask? These are the larger goals that inspire me to set “small t” training goals to pave the way. And, even if I don’t follow through with all those smaller goals, that “Big T” training goal is still there and it matters enough to me to keep me working towards it in some way, shape or form. It is my training purpose.
Let’s consider the difference in a running context. My current small t goal is to run an ultra. It’s a lot of work and it’s incredibly ambitious for me as a runner. But it’s not my purpose. My Big T goal, the one that my ultra goal contributes to and aligns with, is to continue to push the boundaries of what I think is physically possible for me. This Big T training goal is the same one that caused me to set the following small t training goals over the last decade: running a half marathon, my first 40+ km day hike, and my first mountain marathon.
I am a firm believer that “Big T” training goals will drive better training results than only employing “small t” training goals. The reasons for this are threefold (as an added bonus, using terms like “threefold” makes them sound extra worthy of your attention):
- 1. Most of us are inspired not by task completion but rather by working towards something larger and more meaningful. It’s the same reason companies have visions. For instance, I work for a technology company. I think technology is cool and all, but I’m not inspired by our actual product. What I am inspired by is what that platform stands for, which is all about creating possibilities. I don’t think it’s any different for our lives outside of work, including our training. Chances are there is something larger than an event or our workouts that is driving us to keep doing what we’re doing. I believe if you identify your larger training purpose you will work even harder to pursue your smaller goals–and find more satisfaction in reaching them.
2. Big T goals are aspirational and ongoing. If we set nothing but event-related or situational goals we can create a bit of a checklist mentality for ourselves. And what happens when the event is over? When you finish that half marathon or get that PR, you may find yourself rudderless without a larger purpose to keep you going. Big T training goals are continuously aspirational so they provide the impetus to set smaller goals that keep you on your path.
3. If I fail to complete a small t training goal, my Big T training goal ensures that there’s still something else for me to work towards. For me, if all my eggs are in one basket (i.e. I’m just focused on a singular, small goal) and my basket breaks (I can’t complete that goal), I’m more likely to get discouraged to the point of inaction (personal resilience is clearly not my strong suit). Or, if an injury strikes (ahem, like right now), it can feel hopeless. But my Big T training goal keeps me moving. If I don’t run my ultra, there’s other ways I can push myself beyond what I currently think possible.
So if you haven’t yet defined what drives you to keep training, whether it’s running or any other athletic endeavour, you may want to ask yourself what is your Big T training goal? What gets you up in the morning and what keeps you setting smaller goals along the way? What is the common thread or connection between all of your smaller training goals? What keeps you going when times are tough? In giving thought to some of these questions, you just mind find a whole new level of connection and commitment to your training.