Start != Finish

“Why run a marathon when you can swim one?”

— Anna Marshall (aka Nemo), legend.

How do you set your goals?

Here is a lesson I learnt the hard way in Tauranga this time last year

I completed my second half Ironman (2km swim, 90km cycle, 21km run).

As the photo shows, my time was 6:04.34.


Note: compare and contrast. :-)

That was 20 minutes better than my previous best time over that distance.

I should have been stoked.  But, after I finished, I sat on the grass inside the recovery tent feeling both completely knackered and pretty bummed.

I was aiming to break 6 hours, and had come close but missed.  The second half of the run had been especially tough mentally, as I realised that I wasn’t on pace to go under the time I wanted.

I had done the training, and on the day I went okay.  My swim was maybe a couple of minutes slower than I had expected, but my ride was as quick as I had ever gone.  I got off the bike feeling in good shape.  Unlike my first half Ironman the previous year, when the only thing that got me to the finish line at all was my stubbornness, I was running all the way to the end.  But, I just didn’t have the endurance or speed I needed.

It was a problem of expectations, and specifically how I had articulated my goal.

As I learnt in that tent, it’s pretty difficult to re-state these things after the fact.  So, best you get it right up-front.

A better way?

In this article on overcoming procrastination, Steve Pavlina suggests replacing “finish it” with “start it”.

So, rather than:

finish in under 6 hours

My goal should have been:

get to the start line in good shape and then go as fast as possible

For a start, it’s not a binary thing.  When the clock ticked over from 5 hours 59 minutes I went directly from “achieved” to “failed”, which was pretty harsh.

More importantly, it lines up well with the reason why I do these crazy events in the first place – it’s not so much about the race itself as having a good excuse to train and keep in shape.

Plus, the feeling you have when you get to the finish at these events can be magical – as long as you’re not distracted by the clock – so once you’ve got to the start line, the finish line is the next obvious place to head, and the sooner the better!

I like how this changes the way I approach things.

But, I haven’t necessarily learnt my lesson.

This weekend I’m taking on a 180km ride – the bike leg in Challenge Wanaka as part of a relay team (our team name is “Mah Na Mah Na” if you want to track our progress on the day).

It’s a long way.  For those of you in Wellington, imagine cycling to Levin and back!  But, I’ve done the hard work.  I’m ready.

Now, if I can just go fast enough, maybe I can finish in under 6 hours! :-)

Related posts I’ve written:

Other interesting posts about setting goals:

And, a billboard:

Ironman ... Yeah Right

6 thoughts on “Start != Finish”

  1. I’ve been one of those procrastinators for the past decade. Full of great ideas that go nowhere! My excuse was “I have no money, no time”. But this Xmas break I forgot about having little spare money and for under $100 created a lowfi record label (, refreshed my blog (a work in progress preview at and four mini websites explaining my core services as a User Experience Consultant. They’re not perfect but feels great to get them out there, evolve and take on a life of their own…

  2. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with setting specific goals like a sub six hour time. Clearly it was a realistic target.

    Do you have any idea how long each of the three stages took you, out of interest?

  3. Fascinating post Rowan. The way expectations influence feelings and how changing those expectations can change feelings is about more than just about running triathalons. We see people living their entire lives doing this. Creating certain expectations for all areas of their lives and being disappointed when they don’t get it. I think when it comes to individual challenges like your triathalon it’s not such a big problem. You adjust and run another like you are doing. But when we do it in our lives, I think it’s unfortunately a much bigger problem with very wide implications for society.

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