By Dr. Jack Daniels

The idea of competition is to compete. I’m sure that someone has said this before, but I’ll restate it to get us in the proper frame of mind. Competition is a special part of the sport of running. It’s fine to plan some competitions as part of an overall training program, but each competition is important and must be taken seriously.

The purpose of competing is to achieve a specific goal or performance. You should know exactly why you’re running each race, just as you should know the purpose of every workout you complete. Improving your ability to hold a fast pace, sticking with a group of competitors for a prolonged period, helping to build confidence in your kick, learning patience, and aiding the development of a physiological or mental attribute that’s beneficial to your long term development, are all reasons why you might run races.

The goal of competition doesn’t have to be to discover how fast you can race a particular distance, although that’s often the case. Your goal might be to try a new tactic in a competitive setting. For example, you might be a runner that goes out too fast in the early part of a race and ends up paying the price later. If so, your goal for an upcoming competition might be to set a more cautious early pace. You might strive for even pacing as possible or negative splits to work on improving your ability to manage and control pace.

Select goals that boost your confidence in your ability to compete. It’s discouraging to always fail because you set unrealistic goals. It’s also not difficult to set yourself up (or an athlete you’re coaching) for failure in a race. Set goals that are challenging but that allows for success.

Just as the idea of competing is to achieve a specific goal or performance, the idea behind goal setting is to establish a goal that has a decent chance of being attained. It’s fine for an aspiring or inexperienced runner to enter a long race or marathon with the main goal being to test their ability to consume fluids at a certain rate. Fluid consumption can make or break a marathoner, so learning to take in fluids at an adequate rate is a crucial part of progressing your time in the marathon.

I don’t want to leave anyone under the impression that you must set goals that you’ll always achieve. Coming up short can sometimes be more valuable than reaching your goal. If you make an honest assessment of why you failed on these occasions, you might benefit more than if you had achieved your goal.

Dr. Jack Daniels is a world renowned exercise scientist and coach and the author or the popular Daniels’ Running Formula.