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Triathlon goal setting the SMART way


Triathlon goal setting the SMART way will help you progress towards realistic targets and keep you motivated to train right to the finish line.

Maybe you’ve already signed up for your first triathlon, perhaps you’re hovering the mouse over the enter button or have other fitness goals outside of the race season. Whatever your motivation, setting goals for the year is vital before formulating your triathlon training plan.

No matter your goal or goals, working out how you’ll achieve them is essential and setting SMART goals – which are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and timely – is a great method to use. The beauty and simplicity of SMART goals are that by going through the process of setting them, you’ll naturally refine each goal until it’s clear in your mind, helping you on your way to success.


Think about exactly what you want to achieve. For example, if your goal is to complete your first event, be specific about the distance. Or, if you want to complete the run leg in a certain time, note the pace you’ll need to achieve. The more you hone down your goal, the more focused you can be in achieving it. Being specific is the difference between ‘I want to complete a triathlon,’ and ‘I want to complete Ironman 70.3 Staffordshire.’


Setting a measurable goal simply means that it’s easy to determine if you’ve reached your goal – something with a tangible completion point. It could be data-based – completing a race in a specific time or hitting a certain swim pace in the pool – or as simple as crossing the finish line of your goal event.

Continuing our example from above, adding measurability to the goal would be: ‘I want to complete Ironman 70.3 Staffordshire in under six hours’.


Picking an achievable goal helps you refine what’s possible with the time, fitness and potential you have. If your goal is an Ironman in a month’s time and you’re starting with zero fitness, it’s probably not realistic and trying to achieve this lofty ambition will almost definitely end in failure and injury.

Your goal should certainly challenge you but should also be attainable. This means picking something that’s not so easy that it’s unsatisfying, but not so hard that failure is inevitable. Choosing a goal that seems within the realm of possibility, but one that you’re not 100% sure you can will help push you in your training.

Your goal should certainly challenge you but should also be attainable

Applying this to our on-going example, if you haven’t completed a 70.3 before, perhaps six hours is unrealistic and the goal should be modified to, ‘I want to complete Ironman 70.3 Staffordshire in under seven hours’.


Your goals should be individual to you and your personal aspirations. For example, if your goal is to out-race a clubmate at your next event, think about this in terms of what performance you will need to do to ensure success, not following their goals.

Each goal you set throughout the season should build towards helping you achieve your biggest goal of the year – for example, you might set yourself the task of a completing a sprint-distance race in a certain time on the way to your most important Olympic-distance A race.

So in relation to our example above, perhaps you’ve built up through sprint and Olympic races and want to continue your progression through the triathlon distances, in which case completing Ironman 70.3 Staffordshire in under seven hours is certainly relevant to you.


Setting a time frame within which to complete each goal helps to determine whether you’re achieving your goals and avoids an open-ended scenario, where the goal and the determination to reach it continually slips back. Few things give stronger motivation to get out there and train than the days ticking down to the event you’ve entered.

With our example, ensuring timeliness is simple – we just add the year in which we want to complete the event to set that end date: ‘My goal is to complete Ironman 70.3 Staffordshire 2021 in under seven hours.’

More triathlon goal setting examples

  • My goal is to complete a marathon before December in under 4:30.
  • My goal is to get my 5km time down to 20 minutes this year.
  • My goal is to lose 2kg of weight before my race in June.

Putting your goals on paper

Whatever your burning desire is with your triathlon participation, setting these goals down on paper is a great way to reinforce your commitment to training – helping you snap on your goggles, strap on your helmet or lace up your shoes even when it’s dark, rainy and cold.

Triathlon goal setting isn’t just for you though, including loved ones or friends by sharing your goals and even factoring in family time when defining your SMART goals can make the whole process smoother and keep you better supported.

setting goals down on paper is a great way to reinforce your commitment

Once you’ve got your goals down on paper, pin them up in your pain cave, slap them on the fridge or tape them to the cookie jar to help keep you on the path to success!

Triathlon Vibe
Triathlon Vibe
Triathlon Vibe is the home of triathlon training advice for beginner to expert triathletes. From sprint to Ironman, we share how to swim, bike and run stronger and faster.


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