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February 23, 2011 | Triathlon Training Blog

Why Goal-Setting is Important for Triathlon and Life and How to Do It Right

If you don’t set goals in life and in training, how do you know where you’re going?

Setting goals puts us on track for achievement, motivation, enhanced performance and even builds confidence.

Don’t take it from me. This is the expert talking.

In this continued series on mental training, Dr. Alison Rhodius, an AASP (Association for Applied Sport Psychology) certified sport psychology consultant in the U.S. specializing in elite individual performance, teaches us the psychology behind goal-setting, successful strategies for goal-setting and how to “get” goals.

Whether your goal is to train for your first Sprint triathlon or to qualify for the World Championship in Kona, goal-setting is one of the most important mental training techniques to master.

When things get tough in training, you suffer setbacks or are tired or not seeing immediate pay-offs, it’s much easier to throw the towel and quit than if you’re working toward a goal.




Setting goals will

a)      Keep you focused on the task to be completed. They direct your training. You know where you are and know where you’re going.

b)      Help you maintain your motivation when training gets stale, when you’re hurting or get tired.

c)      Increase your efforts, because when you have a goal, you will strive to improve.

d)      Help increase your confidence. When you have a goal and training goes well, you will go into any race more confident knowing that you’ve put in the hours on the bike, run and swim and gained fitness.

That said, in sport psychology the experts refer to setting SMART goals and SMARTER goals. Both are acronyms that will help you think about the process of goal-setting and here is what they mean:


Goals need to be specific. If you tell yourself I want to do a triathlon this year, that’s great, but it’s much more realistic that you will actually train, if you have signed up for a specific event. When your name is on the registration list, money is on the line, and you are committed to a specific event, the motivation to train will be much greater. It also helps you setting specific training goals.


If a goal is measurable, it’ll help you measure your progress, such as how much time you want or are able to spend each week in training on the bike, run and swim. Triathlon training, especially for longer distances, is tremendously demanding emotionally, physically and mentally. Seeing progress each week in training will keep you motivated and will raise your confidence level, as you’re progressing toward that bigger goal.


It is critical to stay flexible and understand that sometimes you may have to change plans or even let go of a goal when achieving it becomes unrealistic. Assessing progress on a daily basis is important. You can do that by writing down your thoughts and think about your daily, weekly, short-term, medium and long-term goals.


This can be tricky: If the goal is too easy, then the challenge may be lacking and with it your motivation. On the other hand, if the goal is too hard and you don’t succeed, you’ll likely end up disappointed and may become depressed. Every step toward your long-term goal should be positive and achievable. As long as you’re moving forward and toward your goal, the more realistic it becomes.


 This goes hand in hand with being as realistic as possible. If you’ve never trained for a long-distance event and decide to sign up for an Ironman with two months to train for it, you’re not giving yourself sufficient time to be successful. However, if you work backward from an event: Say you give yourself one year to train for your first Ironman race, and you map out training goals, such as the time you have available to train each week, set milestone goals, such as completing a 70.3 distance event six months prior to the IM, you’re setting time-based goals that are also realistic.

In SMARTER, the E stands for EVALUATION and the R stands for Reflection. Check out my next blog post to learn why setting SMARTER goals and reflecting on goals is so important. Dr. Rhodius, who works as a full-time professor at John F. Kennedy University and also works with athletes for mental toughness, will teach us the secret to evaluating your goals and reflecting on them.  

By Marion Webb
Marion Webb

Marion Webb is an ACE-certified Personal Trainer and Group Fitness Instructor. Webb has worked as a longtime award-winning business journalist, covering fitness, small business, health care and biotech issues. A competitive age-group triathlete and two-time ITU Long Distance World Championship qualifier, Webb competes mostly in the Half Ironman (70.3 miles) and (140.6 miles) Ironman distances.

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