Goal setting for 2021- challenging yourself during challenging times

2020 has been a tough year for us all. For many, just navigating our way through all the uncertainty has been a priority and any running, swimming, cycling or fitness goals we might have had, have been forced to take a backseat as we adjusted to a new normal and endured two UK wide lockdowns. Whether you achieved your goals or not, don’t overlook the part you have played in 2020 and the storm we continue to weather, from our incredible frontline workers, to those who have struggled/ made sacrifices and those who simply stayed at home and helped save lives and supported our NHS. If like me, you’re really feeling ready to bid farewell to 2020 and looking ahead to 2021 you might be thinking about goals and what to aim for. It is likely 2021 will be another challenging year and goal setting might look a little different. Before you claim 2021 as YOUR year lets all agree to creep in, take a look around and not touch anything!

First things first, you don’t need a new year to set new goals, but if you want to focus on using January 1st as a chance to wipe the slate clean and start afresh then that is YOUR choice. I personally have mixed feelings about the new year, new me rhetoric, but similarly I dislike others undermining those who do want to use the new year as a motivator. I think I’m the same person at 11:59 on the 31st December and 00:01 on the 1st January, but that is my view and it doesn’t have to be yours! One thing I do like is the feeling of starting a new training block in January, as it usually ties in perfectly with Spring Marathons and Summer Triathlons, plus then I can wind down before Christmas and enjoy the feeling that everything is wrapped up for the year. If you want to set goals in January, that is great, read on and lets smash this! If you want to set goals another time in the year that is great too (come back and read this blog when you’re ready).

We have definitely had many hurdles to navigate in 2020

Anyone can set goals and everyone’s will be different. You don’t need to be an elite runner or compete at a high level to set goals. You’re never too ‘amateur’ to have a dream or target and your goals, no matter how big or small, are important because they matter to you. Everyone’s goals will be different- you cannot and must not, compare yourself to others, and when setting your goals you must stay true to yourself and think about what you want to achieve not what you feel you should. 

Don’t just pick up where your 2020 goals left off. We’ve just had a really turbulent and chaotic year and the chances are you’re not at the same level of fitness or in quite the same headspace as when you set your original goals for 2020. Instead, adapt these to take into account where you are now, how you’ve progressed this year and what you think 2021 might have in store for you. It is ok if you have focussed more on simply getting through 2020 rather than thriving and smashing PBs, distances and new experiences. If you feel like your original 2020 goals are a little out of your reach, break them down into smaller chunks and plan them over the duration of 2021 or even 2022. Things often don’t go to plan and sometimes things take longer than you anticipated, it is worth the wait.

Be brave and set yourself goals which are a little out of your 2021 comfort zone (but bear in mind this might be a bit different to a regular year). You want your goals to be realistic and achievable but also scare you a little bit, but you also want something that is possible during these unprecedented times. 2021 is a little different because there are lots of things out of your control. Consider how you’ve handled 2020, for example can you still train with gyms/pools closed, are you able to motivate yourself or have you felt overwhelmed? Bear these factors in mind when goal planning and it is ok if you aren’t as crazy ambitious this year- it isn’t about setting lower standards it’s about being realistic and challenging yourself under challenging conditions.

Ask yourself why you want to achieve these goals and why this year? Whatever your goal, you have to do this for yourself, not because you feel pressured to or think you should. Your reason why will drive your passion and help you get through an obstacles or rough patches.

be-LEAF in yourself

If things feel overwhelming break them down into smaller chunks, for example little goals that add up to one big goal. If you set multiple goals, think about these as Bronze, Silver and Gold i.e. which is the BIG one you would love to achieve. Having a plan will help you identify milestones and ensure you have the methods to achieve your goals as well as checking your progress so that you can adjust accordingly.

Think about avoiding making goals wholly dependent on specific races. For example saying you want to run X time at X race. In previous years I have done this (for example I had a goal marathon time at a Manchester Marathon) but that was when I had more certainty that these events would happen. If 2020 has taught us anything, it is that nothing is certain and whilst we may be in for a rough ride for a while longer, tying a goal to a specific race can lead to disappointment if that is then cancelled or restrictions mean we cannot travel to that race. Instead focus on the idea that you’d like to run X time/distance this year, ideally at X race, but remember you can use alternate races, delay until later in the year, or take on a virtual race as a backup. Its sort of a any possible means approach.

Also on the topic of races- check your calendar and what you provisionally have in the diary! Lots of us will have rescheduled races, some of which might have been moved more than once and with many switched to autumn 2021 look out for clashes. I’ve already spotted two in my schedule!

Consider setting goals that don’t correlate to numbers. Some of the most fulfilling goals I had this year focussed on how I felt about my performance or wanting to improve at something (for example, I wanted to become braver on the bike). These goals have brought me the most joy and the biggest changes in the way I train and the things I can achieve. You could think about IMPROVING your 5km time, rather than pinning a number to it, learning a new skill or how you FEEL about an aspect of your training. Someone once asked me how I measure these, my answer is- however you like. They’re YOUR goals, you’re the only person who can validate and assess your performance.

Be persistent(ish) with your goals but flexible with your methods. Things in life are rarely linear, sometimes there will be bumps in the road and you might need to deviate from your original plan, especially in 2021. Sometimes this might be giving yourself more time to achieve a certain goal, using different methods or tweaking the goal slightly based on your progress (especially if you were very ambitious when you set your goals!) for example you wanted to try your first triathlon but once you began training it became apparent you were taking on too much too soon- opt for a sprint tri or a duathlon. You’ll still be achieving a goal of doing a multi-sport event and you’re giving yourself a perfect stepping stone to achieve your ultimate end goal with a little more time. Goals are personal to YOU and only YOU can hold yourself accountable.

Don’t be afraid to dips your toes in

Celebrate the little wins. When working towards a goal there will always be both ups and downs. We always tend to focus on what doesn’t quite go to plan and often forget to celebrate the little wins along the way. Little wins can also be more than races, times, or distances, they can be times you felt strong, weeks of consistency, not giving up during a tough session, nailing your fuelling strategy or simply enjoying challenging yourself. When you check in with the progress of your goals, also check in with the little wins as these can help show you how far you’ve come.

Keep focusing on that end goal. As I’ve previously mentioned you WILL have ups and downs. When things feel tough think about why you set this goal, what it means to you, visualise how you hope to feel when you achieve it and everything you’ve put into your training so far.

Things won’t happen overnight. You need time, consistency, determination, self belief and people around you that support you. Each training session gives you the chance to work towards your goal and simply by showing up you’re investing in your dreams.  

2021 will continue to challenge us, but 2020 taught us how to adapt, be resilient and weather the storm. Happy goal setting.

Credit: Anna Rach Photography

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