Figuring Out What Your Next Goal Should Be

A goal should almost be thought about backwards—it’s not what you want, but what you’re ready to give up to get there. It’s easy to have aspirations. We would all like lots of things (plenty outside of running) that are not going to happen. But what can you do, in your running, to make your goal come true? (Like Kinsey Middleton, pictured above, the 2022 winner of the Ottawa Marathon and the first Canadian woman to do that in fifteen years). Is it a time goal, a distance, a diet, a fundraising number for an old friend? According to Reid Coolsaet, you have to shoot the gap in your dreaming between lofty and realistic. The right kind of ambition that will make you love the path you’re proposing you do.  

A goal should be achievable, but scare you a bit,”  says Coolsaet, pictured below, whose accomplished goals, twice, include marathoning in the Olympic Games. “If your goal seems too easy, you can sell yourself short in training and still get it, but if you don’t believe your goal is attainable then you also might not be motivated. The sweet spot is something achievable—but far from a given, and if you’re not excited about your goal, then it’s not really worth it.

Goals are about trying new things and getting out of my comfort zone.

Coolsaet, who has graduated out of training to break the Canadian marathon record to become an ultramarathoner, race director and coach (now alongside Krista DuChene), is an old hand at setting himself dramatic, yet somehow obtainable, goals. 

“I would’ve been more successful in 2022 had I stuck with distances and surfaces I’ve done my whole life, but that wasn’t as exciting to me as the prospect of the unknown,” says Reid, who raced a lot this past year, two 100Ks, two 50Ks, a 50-miler and a 100-mile race. “Curiosity, as much as anything, is what gets me excited about goal setting and excitement as a motivator I think is underrated—when I’m excited about the goal laid before me, it shows up in my training every day.

I was interested in hearing about the goals from iRunNation (sign up here and make your voice heard). Tracy Shouldice wants to show up at his races without getting sick. Michele Cradock wants to race Tokyo and achieve her sixth star. And Chanty Medeiros is coming back, now that her first child turned two, to the half at October’s TCS Toronto Waterfront Marathon. Brian Putre, who runs with BlackToe, is running every street in Toronto. Ben Flanagan and Natasha Wodak, of course, want to qualify for the 2024 Paris Olympics and lots of crews are competing at the Vancouver Sun Run in April. That same month the 30K at Around the Bay in Hamilton is already 75% sold (and the 2x15K relay is 80% sold; now is the time for pulling triggers). Are you running the Beneva Quebec City Marathon in September? For people running the great spring marathons in Ottawa, Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver, have you first decided where you’re going to run your half?

There’s a reason why February’s First Half in Vancouver and the Chilly Half Marathon in Burlington on March 5 sell out every year: racing keeps you honest. It gets you out of the door when you need to wear two pairs of gloves.

So what does your 2023 look like?

Plenty of runners said they wanted to either avoid injuries, or return to running after spending large swaths of 2022 on the injured reserve. I know I want to do Dry January. I want to race more. I raced twice this year, two marathons, that’s it. This year, I’m going to race twice before my spring goal race (and just like last year, my goal has nothing to do with time, but rather a feeling of mastery: I want to finish with grace). Reid Coolsaet says the trick to achieving your big goal is to lace your path leading up to it with smaller incremental goals. Even the Olympians race themselves into shape. And so, if you’re planning a fall half marathon, best to find a summer 10K, and sign up today.

Goals work best when you have benchmarks and can continuously knock off small chunks,” says Coolsaet, adding smart, realistic goals might include doing core strength exercises twice-a-week or else, for instance, if you run four-times-a-week, shooting for nine runs in two weeks: small incremental improvements to take you towards the larger vision at the end. “But listen, it still comes back to excitement for me. I used to do pool running a ton, but now I’m not motivated to do it, so I don’t. If you don’t enjoy the process, you can’t run for many years and 2022 goals aside, long-term running is the only way you can see your potential.”      

What do you want to achieve in the new year? Visualize your winter, your spring. How do you see yourself living for maximum happiness and how will that dovetail to the time spent in your sneakers? I want to stay fit, sharp and active. I want to run hard in February, give my kids a training plan they can stick with and host a fundraiser for Stephane Okenge at the Ottawa Marathon. I want to run 49K on my forty-ninth birthday (oh boy) and I want everybody in Calgary, Montreal and Halifax—places outside of Toronto—to know we see them and salute them and I want to visit as many races and meet as many runners as I possibly can. And with that, we’ll give the last words to Reid.      

“Goals should be about the balance between doing things you don’t like and doing things that you love which, in the end, serve just one purpose—to make you appreciate running,” Coolsaet says. “In 2023, try new things, set new benchmarks, but always embrace the unknown because most of this, above anything, should really be about having fun. It’s the best way to see results.”

Top photograph courtesy of the Tamarack Ottawa Marathon; Reid shot courtesy of Reid; Chilly Half picture, featuring Reid smiling at Krista, courtesy of the Chilly Half Marathon race.