Process-Based Goals

In my previous post, I wrote about my focus for the rest of my Moose Mountain Marathon training: to run in a more engaged way, instead of settling back and running a too-slow pace because it feels “easy.” Running “engaged” to me doesn’t mean running hard all the time. Like I said, I’ve found many times that I thought I was running at a decent clip, only to look down and see I’m running a 19 or 20 minute pace (on trails). I’ve found that by altering my form, I can run faster while still maintaining an aerobic heart rate (if that’s the plan for the workout), but I tend to settle into a form that lends itself to slower-paced running, when I’m not engaged.

Then on Tuesday, I read an article on I Run Far by Joe Uhan about setting process goals rather than outcome goals. It sounded exactly like what I was talking about.

“A process goal is a subjective, qualitative measure of how something is done, rather than how much or how fast. Examples of process goals might include how a run feels (the goal to ‘find ease’) or how the body moves (biomechanical goals such as ‘quick feet, strong arms, and forward lean’). Sometimes the processes are analog: ‘go run’ or ‘go to sleep now.’ But built into each process goal is both an execution–do or do not–and a feel.”

In my first paragraph I described a biomechanical process goal without realizing I was. People set process goals for races a lot, without realizing it. Usually those process goals are “finish smiling” or “finish strong” or something similar. However, those process goals are often B or C or Z goals, with an outcome-based A goal (finish under X hours, set a PR, finish in the top 10/top 3/etc.). And the process goals aren’t taken as seriously, or are there as an afterthought but would be considered a failure. I mean, would anyone ever set a goal of finishing, say, a 100 mile race under 24 hours, and then be happy with a 36:59:59 finish as long as they were smiling? Probably not unless they had some kind of beatific transformation while out on the trails. Which we all do, don’t we? But not to that extent.

I don’t know if I can ever really eliminate outcome-based goals from my running strategies. I like focusing on hitting times. I don’t worry too much about placing because it’s unrealistic for me. I like to see how my placing has improved in 5Ks, but that has as much to do with the makeup of the race entrants as it does about my abilities as a runner. I also like the certainty of knowing I hit those goals. How do I know if I’ve achieved a process-based goal? It’s a feeling. Yesterday, I ran 7 miles on the Superior Hiking Trail, starting at Twin Ponds and running toward Enger/Piedmont/out that general way. It was pretty hot, probably still in the high 80s F, when I started, and I felt a bit funky for the first mile or two, but I really tried to stay engaged on the flats, downhills, and gentle uphills. I ended up with a much better pace than the last time I’d run a similar course, and a much better pace than I normally hit on Superior Hiking Trail runs. Granted, I also had a much higher average heart rate than I have had on some of those runs, but it was hot and I was also powering up the hills. There were also times when I did notice myself settling in or running lazily. And there were times when I wasn’t letting my heart rate recover enough and should have slowed down, but continued to push. So does that mean I made my goal or not? I felt like I did. So I did. Participation trophy, please.

I’m interested in seeing what else I can learn from the rest of the columns on this topic (the article was part 1 of I think 3?), and how my training and racing will be affected by what I discover.

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