Part 3: Set the Right Goal

At the end of the 2021 National 12-hr champs – totally knackered but satisfied

So I’ve entered the UK National 24-hour Time Trial Champs in July 2022 – riding as far as I can on open roads in a 24 hour period – oh dear…

As a 44 year old dad working full-time as an ICU doctor, I’m not going to win – but I still want to ride a performance to be proud of. More than that, I want the whole process to feel enriching, with learning and adventures along the way.  

Over six months, I’ll be finding out more about everything needed to perform in an ultra-distance bike race. By sharing what I learn, I hope to discover more about the sport, myself, and the ingredients of success…or failure.

So the motivation’s there, and I think know my reason “why”, but what’s my goal in this 24 hour TT?   A finishing position, a total mileage, or just to do my best on the day? 

Prof Steve Peters, the psychology brains behind the British Cycling successes of 2012, advocates just one simple goal of “do your best”.  He argues you can’t do better than this, so you win every time.(1) 

Steve Peters with Victoria Pendleton

His advice fits nicely with the idea of intrinsic motivation but I find it too vague. Of course I’ll try my hardest on the day, but what would “doing my best” actually mean in terms of training and preparation? When I finish my ride, I want to know I have achieved something more tangible than this.

The most tangible goals would be to target a distance or finishing position.  My club’s 24-hour record has stood at 426 miles since 1988, while my best result in a National Champs TT was 9th place (in last year’s 12-hour). 

Both of these are exciting targets to beat, but they are also problematic. They encourage a very extrinsic form of motivation (recognition for a club record or top-ten finish), and they depend greatly on factors outside my control. I could prepare and race perfectly but still fall short because of the weather, punctures, or the performance of other riders on the day. 

Perhaps the right balance is to set tangible goals, but base them on aspects of the process I can control, rather than targeting the final outcome.  If I can set and achieve the right process goals, then I should feel satisfied with whatever result I achieve. 

A lot has been written about goal-setting, in sport and in the world of work. The concept of SMART Goals, introduced introduced to business in the 1980s, describes good goals as Specific, Measurable, Assignable, Realistic and Time-Based.(2)

More recently, Scott Geller, a US behavioural psychologist, suggested four key questions to identify a useful process goal:(3) 

  • Can I do it?  (am I capable of following the process?)
  • Will it work?  (will the process lead me to the outcome I want?)
  • Is it worth it?  (is it worth the time and effort?)
  • Do I have a choice?  (am I doing this for me or for someone else?)
Scott Geller at Virginia Tech TED Talk in 2013

I find Dr Geller’s questions an excellent summary of everything else I have learned so far.  If I can answer “Yes” to each of these questions, I should have found an effective process goal that is both intrinsically motivated and compatible with my own personal “why?”

So, after looking at past performances and considering what I want from this TT, I have written my goal. Above all, I want to finish the event with a sense of satisfaction that I have ridden a proper, solid 24-hour TT by turning up fit then riding the best I can on the day.  

To be more specific, I have added sone process goals that I believe are within my control. I have then listed outcomes I hope to achieve, both for physical performance (dependent on how my body behaves on the day) and overall mileage (dependent on weather and conditions). I hope these will give some extra motivation to train and prepare as well as I possibly can.

My Goal: Ride a solid 24-hr time trial 

Solid = satisfied I did everything within my control then gave my best effort on the day, leaving me comfortable with my result, regardless of performance relative to others. 

Process

  • turn up fit, strong and well-prepared
  • ride within my tested pacing plan
  • keep pedalling for 58 mins per hr (moving time at least 23hrs 12 mins overall)

Performance (depends on my body)

  • stay in my aero position throughout
  • ride an average of 180w Normalised Power* including stops

Outcome (depends on external factors)

  • Good: Beat 1988 VC Venta club record 426 miles (17.75mph)
  • Great: Ride 450 miles (18.75mph = 83% of 12-hr speed**)
  • Amazing: 480 miles (20mph, would be 0.05mph faster than local hero Andy Rivett in 2021, so unlikely to be achievable)

*Equals the power I managed in on an 18-hr solo Lands End – Portsmouth ride in 2020 (although totally exhausted at the end).  Equals 82% of my 12-hr NP in 2020 & 2021 (219 & 220w).

**In 2020, on the same roads as this 24-hr, I rode 272 miles at 22.7mph with 219w.

References

  1. Peters, P. S. (2012). The chimp paradox. Vermilion
  2. Doran, G. T. (1981). “There’s a S.M.A.R.T. way to write management’s goals and objectives”. Management Review. 70(11): 35–36.
  3. Scott Geller (2013) The psychology of self-motivation. TEDxVirginiaTech

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