‘An Exclusive Club’ Provides a Lesson on Setting Running Goals


Title: ‘An Exclusive Club’ which appeared in the June 27, 1994 edition of Sports Illustrated (located HERE)
Author: Gary Smith

‘An Exclusive Club’ pertains to the past and current world record holders in the men's mile at the time of this article. The individuals in this club were invited to the 40th anniversary celebration of Roger Bannister breaking the four-minute barrier in the mile - considered the greatest sporting achievement of the 20th century. The picture above shows Bannister surrounded by 13 other world record holders from Algeria, Australia, England, France, New Zealand, Sweden, Tanzania, and the United States.

In addition to Bannister, the article mentions other world record holders present; for instance, Arne Andersson of Sweden, who used fartlek running to train, and Peter Snell of New Zealand, who trained adding frequent long runs of 20 miles or more, then as a big competition like the Olympics neared, focused on race-specific running. Therefore, ‘An Exclusive Club’ shows running to be a global sport using different training methods for obtaining world record results.

Around the globe, milers continue to race against the stopwatch in an attempt to break the world record. The article mentions…. “Switzerland's finest watches kept score, and no man could claim the throne until he had surpassed the performance of his predecessor on his predecessor's best day.” Racing to set the world record is one example of a quantitative, outcome goal - a goal time is set and the runner either succeeds or fails in reaching their goal (and, for this article, breaking the world record). There are other examples of outcome goals in the sport of running: going for a BQ time, trying to beat one’s personal best time, trying to get on the podium for a race result, etc. I’ll admit it, I’ve even chased race times which I posted about HERE.

More recently it seems sports psychologists and running coaches are now working with athletes on setting a variety of goals. This variety helps athletes “improve their relationship with failure”, according to coach, Steve Magness. In addition to outcome goals, Magness also has runners work toward more qualitative, process goals that may eventually lead to better race times, such as the process of attempting to run a stronger finish in a race. An example of a professional marathoner with a variety of goals in a big race is Dathan Ritzenhein, who had a disappointing (for him) 2019 Boston Marathon: "While I was disappointed with my finish, I knew I had accomplished three of the goals I set out for in this race: Goal one was to get to the start line healthy...The second goal I accomplished was to finish...And, lastly, I came away from the race healthy." What I find interesting is that not one of Ritzenhein's race goals is about achieving a certain time - even though he ran 2:16:19 at Boston, good for 19th place.

In addition to outcome and process goals, coach, John Stanton, mentions other qualitative goals to grow more comfortable with running: a dedication goal (dedicating the training year to the memory of a loved one), a self-acceptance goal (for instance, accepting that one's improving fitness is not due to luck or chance).

In sum, ‘An Exclusive Club’ teaches that achieving an outcome goal, like a world record is an amazing event; getting there takes qualitative, process goals too.

Thank you for reading!

For more about my chase for a certain race time and helpful comments of Dathan Ritzenhein, check out: Race Report: A ‘Tough’ Marathon.

Members of ‘An Exclusive Club’ used a variety of training methods for achieving world records. Check out these posts on some of the methods used: Intervals are for All Runners, Fartlek is for All Runners, and Running to a Lydiard Groove.



Experiment of One Coaching covers topics ranging from running, strength training, health & wellness, sports nutrition to travel.