Are you playing the long game?

By Hayden Shearman

We’ve just passed the 100-day mark to the upcoming Tokyo Olympics. For those athletes selected and competing, the next 100 days represents the final stage in their lifelong goal of competing at the Games. This 100 days is the final stage of at least 12 years of competing and training and is now a matter of taking the cake out of the oven and getting the icing ready. So, if 100 days represents the “icing on the cake” phase in an Olympian’s training, what can we learn in terms of how we’re setting goals and planning our own training?

As a running coach, one of my biggest frustrations is the lack of time everyday runners give themselves to hit their goals. Often, it’s just three months or six months (or if I’m really lucky, 12 months) prep in the lead up to running a marathon or attempting to qualify for Boston or for doing a first half.

This approach is risky in terms of injury and just not enjoying the process (because the improvement curve needs to be so steep), and it also means you’re constantly under selling yourself on the achievements your body can do if only you gave it more time to do them.

To illustrate how short a 3- or 6-month one-off marathon build up, let me breakdown how the build-up to a typical Olympic Games might be for a runner:

  • T-100 days: The cake is coming out of the oven and the icing is going on. The mileage and speed is there, it’s just a matter of putting it all together.
  • T-4 years: All the ingredients are there to make a world class runner and it now needs time in the pressure cooker of international competition to warrant Olympic selection. Looking for 1% gains, dialling in nutrition and recovery, becoming savvy in races and handling international travel.
  • T-8 years: Most of the ingredients are in place, enough so to make something pretty tasty. The runner emerges as national class but needs to work on some essentials to get to the top level.
  • T-12 years: The runner has a couple of promising ingredients but is hard at work seeing if they can turn bits and pieces of natural talent into gradual improvement and also to lay deep and wide foundations for big things to come.

Twelve years, I would say, would be a typical build up for most first-time Olympic runners. That’s a significant amount of time but what a goal to reach?! Big foundations for a very tall tower.

So, the question I’d challenge you with for your own fitness journey, are you setting your sights high enough? Are you setting goals that demand years and not just months? Or are you stuck in a cycle of six-monthly key races and only seeing the season you’re in right now?

Sure, the Olympics are out of the question for most of us, but that doesn’t mean we can’t adopt the same long-term approach with our goals and strategies that an Olympian would take. And, sure, it might not be a 12-year strategy, but how about a 4-year goal and mapped out plan to get there? Something audacious that can’t be achieved in one year alone, but requires multiple building blocks to be put in place and multiple smaller stepping stones ticked off along the way.

If you’d like some help setting some goals and mapping out a plan to get there, feel free to get in touch with me for coaching (either for tailored training plans or a one-off coaching consult).