When people ask me: “You’re actually going to do the whole Amgen Tour of California?”, I tell them that the real accomplishment is the journey that made it possible to even think that I could do it. In 2007 I trained an entire year in order to reach my end of season goal of riding a measly 100 kilometers from our house in the city to our cottage in the country. 2011 will be my fifth year of serious training and all five years have something in common: a specific goal and a detailed plan to achieve this goal.

In other words, I didn’t just wake up one day and said: “Riding the same route as the best riders in the world, covering over 800 miles in eight days and climbing tens of thousands of feet sounds like fun, let’s do it.” Remember my recent post: in 2008 my CTS coach had ruled out doing just one day like this.

As 2010 draws to a close many people will set themselves goals for the New Year. I call those “feel good goals” or “soft commitments” AKA New Year’s Resolutions. A New Year’s Resolution is said to be a commitment that an individual makes to a project or the reforming of a habit, often a lifestyle change that is generally interpreted as advantageous. The name comes from the fact that these commitments normally go into effect on New Year’s Day. Well known New Year’s Resolutions often have to do with improving health: lose weight, exercise more, eat better, drink less alcohol or quit smoking. In the same vein, many people with make New Year’s Resolutions about improving oneself: become more organized, reduce stress, be less grumpy, manage time better, be more independent.

New Year’s Resolution are sometimes better described as wishful thinking. New Year’s Resolutions are usually too ambitious, too vague or do not come with a plan. That is why so many New Year’s Resolutions often get thrown out the window after a few weeks (or days!).

Imagine how the following New Year’s Resolutions would help me get closer to riding the Tour of California in May 2011: I want to be a faster cyclist, I want to train more and I want to lose weight. My goals for May are more like: showing up at the start line weighing 145 pounds and with seven minutes power of 350 watts and one hour power of 270 watts and CTL of 65 or better and TSB of + 15 or better. As you all know, I delegate the plan to the best people in the industry: CTS. All I have to do is to get on my bike and do what I am supposed to do. That is my job. And if I stick to the plan, I will reach my goals.

In cycling just like in all other aspects of life, outstanding accomplishments involve the whole person: mind and body. Establishing very precise goals is the first step towards outstanding accomplishments. The next step is to develop a strong strategy as to how one will achieve the goals.

Last week end I skied with several members of our ski club in Bromont. I must have developed a bit of a reputation as an avid cyclist as many of the members talk to me about my cycling while going up the chair. Many are themselves cyclists. Their stories are all similar: they start training in May for an August or September event and then they struggle to stay in shape from the fall to the spring – and they can’t quite figure out why. The answer seems simple to me. Have a May goal! What about showing up at the first group ride on the second week end of May at a specific weight and at 90% of your previous fall lactate threshold?

With established goals, it is easier to determine when training gets off track so you can take action to regain control. Without goals, it is difficult to assess whether you are on track and making progress in your training. I have goals twelve months a year, I have yearly goals, monthly goals, weekly goals, daily goals and even minute by minute goals during most rides. These macro and micro goals form the basis of my overall yearly plan.

Sticking to the plan requires commitment which is something you must establish for yourself. No one can tell you what is important in your life – that is your decision. It is clear that successful business people, parents, spouses and athletes alike are highly committed to excellence. There is no way to achieve a high level of excellence without a high level of commitment. The greater your commitment, the more your life will focus on achieving success.

Lance Armstrong’s commitment to success in cycling meant that his life centered around eating, sleeping, and training. This level of commitment increased his chances of successful performances.

The more specific your goals, the better they are at directing training positively. Broad, general goals are not reliable in directing training. Many times long-term, far-off goals or dream goals do not focus enough energy on the present. An athlete should use dream-term goals to motivate and stretch personal limits, but mid-term and micro-goals to reach the desired larger goal.

On a daily or weekly basis, it’s important to have micro goals, which create focus for each ride or week of riding. These micro goals create a common thread that ties together daily workouts and mid-term goals. They provide a daily link to your dream goals. When I look at my training program before a specific workout and I see Power Intervals (all out effort – let’s say four intervals of 3 minutes each) I know it will hurt. I will then deconstruct the workout in my mind and set micro goals within of the workout itself. At the beginning of the workout I might set the following goal: do the first Power Interval perfectly and don’t worry about the last three. At the end of the workout, before the last Power Interval, I might set the goal of doing the first minute perfectly and not worry about the last two minutes.

Many athletes are very good at establishing dream goals, but they get sidetracked and never reach these goals because they have turned goal setting into a static process. Daily evaluation should be integrated into your training program. Many factors make it necessary to change daily workouts. Planning is always an ongoing, fluid endeavour. Things change on a daily basis, races get cancelled, weather affects training, or you could get sick or injured. The only way to stay on top of the variables is to change along with them.

Mid-term goals will often be the end-points of a training cycle. Before tackling these goals, you should have sufficiently developed important physical qualities that will make you competitive in races. A mid-term goal focuses your efforts on achieving something realistic but ambitious. For instance, early in 1998 during Lance’s comeback, he set his sights on a Top-20 placing in the Ruta del Sol, a goal he achieved. Reaching this goal gave him a confidence boost that allowed him to push through difficult periods in the spring. This successful performance was the marriage of the physical and mental process. These mid-term goals are confidence builders that help push you into the peaking process during the cycling season. Without mid-term goals as confidence builders, you would head into the heart of the season with little confidence. Desire, commitment, and preparation would slowly leak away, and your physical attributes would go down the drain. Mid-term goals are a crucial part of the performance evaluation process that helps you stay on track.

At the top end of the goal spectrum are dream goals, or ultimate goals that push the limits of possibility – something like the Amgen Tour of California. Dream goals are a great motivating factor as your body is beginning to enter peak conditioning to achieve new heights of excellence. You need to nurture your motivation through the dream goals that you create. Dream goals are goals that are long shots, but possible if everything falls into place. These goals can help you through tough times and also serve as food for fantasy on long rides.

Visualization is the integration of goals into workouts. Top athletes use visualization, or mental imagery, to see themselves performing at their peak. Visualize every detail of your racing performance being perfect. Small details such as shifting, pedal cadence and body position should appear vividly. These details will help translate visualization into reality. This imagery engages your thoughts, emotions and feelings and more importantly, blends your daily workouts into your goals.

During his workouts leading up to the 1993 World Championships, Lance said that he would “see” every detail of the last few laps of the race – right down to the gear that he was using while attacking the breakaway. Blending visualization and mental preparation into physical training managing the real-life training and racing scenarios faced by every athlete.

There are many aspects to life and competition that are out of your control. You will increase your opportunity for success when your energy is focused on the performance aspects of life or cycling that are within your control. Race success is greatly increased if an athlete is in good condition and ready to race, so stay focused on what you can control – your training, conditioning and workouts. Keep focusing on the controllable aspects of performance. At times athletes become embattled with outside factors and lose commitment to the very core aspects that will create success. Stay in control and maintain focus.

You need to ask yourself what you expect to achieve from your training program. Do you expect to improve speed, power or endurance? Establishing training goals and developing a training program that leads you to these goals will increase the odds of success. You will find that your training goals help motive you while training alone, creating a sense of personal satisfaction from the workouts. It is difficult, if not impossible, for an athlete to reach the limits of their talent without using goals to design training programs.

Once specific training goals have been determined, it is time to add guidelines for use in workouts.

1. Visualize success: Picture a training or racing performance that is perfect and positive in all ways.

2. Visualize details: Your performance should be visualized in every detail. Think about small details such as gear selection, cadence, body position, and the movement of your legs. It is the details that help drive visualization into reality.

3. Visualize regularly: Rehearse your goal performance at least two to three times per week. The more you can visualize a perfect race or training skill, the greater the chance you will be successful.

4. Use feedback: Develop a method for incorporating feedback in regards to your goals. Immediate feedback helps evaluate progress. Feedback can be a great source of motivation for workouts – the more progress you achieve, the more motivated you become. Feedback can include heart rate data, cycling computer data, power data, and your daily training diary.

5. Share your goals: Don’t be afraid to tell the people close to you what you want to achieve. A social support system can help you stay on track when times get tough. Many times when an athlete is struggling with their training or racing, a coach, friend or parent can help them remain calm and maintain their training commitment through tough times and also serve as food for fantasy on long rides.

You have thirteen days left to come up with a more specific New Year’s Resolution and to develop the plan that goes with it.

Good luck and Happy New Year!

PS: the text above is in large part an edit of the goals section of Chris Carmichael’s Cycling Manual.