A system of goal setting that I have used that has worked very well for me is
to set three goals for every race I run. They are:
Floor Goal - The minimum that I would be satisfied with if I have an off day
or bad race conditions (weather, course, etc.).
Realistic Goal - What I realistically think I should be able to do considering
my stage/state of conditioning and knowledge of the race specifics.
Optimistic Goal - What I think I might be able to do if I pop a really exceptional
one and everything goes right.
I start every race at a pace to reach the Realistic Goal. I decide around midrace
whether to reach for more toward the Optimistic Goal. And I usually know before midrace if I have to fall back more toward
the Floor Goal and adjust accordingly. I am satisfied if I make the floor goal, happy if the realistic goal, and ecstatic
with the ceiling goal.
For my first marathon, my goals were floor - finish; realistic - 4 hours; and
optimistic - 3 hours 45 minutes. I have set three goals for almost all of the 202 races I have run. I have had some race disappointments
where I failed to make the floor goal, but not many because I have learned to be honest with myself in goal setting and not
let emotional desires bias them.
Setting multiple goals gives you more flexibility to succeed and avoids setting
yourself up for a "win-lose" scenario and, if you set your goals smartly, you won't guarantee a "success" every time and take
all of the challenge out of it. And goals don't have to be based on time alone. A goal I have used occasionally is to beat
a particular person with whom I regularly compete.
Works for me, might not for someone else.