We pinned down experienced runner and triathlete Stephen Cousins for his top tips on planning for the year ahead. Combining his love of videography with sport, he set up his blog Film My Run and did a fantastic film of our 2016 triathlon.
Looking at the year ahead and planning your season can be a daunting experience. As a seasoned pro, Stephen gives his best advice on how to sensibly plan whilst aspiring to achieve big.
Q: Talk us through your process when setting goals for the year
My goal each year is to progress. I can either progress in terms of Personal Best times for various races, or in terms of the type of challenges I undertake. If I can try something new and different that's always a nice goal to achieve and if I can get faster over a given distance, then I would consider that a decent year. I generally target around 4 races a year in which I am going to give 100%
Over recent years I have progressed from running 10k races and half marathons, to full marathons and ultra distances. With triathlon I began as most do with a Sprint distance but quickly progressed to Olympic and 70.3. The next goal will be to complete a full iron distance triathlon and continue to explore ultra running in exciting and challenging locations.
Of course, life balance is always an issue. I would be a pretty selfish husband and father if all I did each weekend was go off and race. So we do need to be mindful of balancing our sporting goals with the family goals of quality time together and having joint experiences. I read somewhere that if you are still married then you haven’t trained hard enough. So be it.
Q: Tell us about your experiences of goal-setting and the relative successes.
It's a big question as to whether you should set achievable goals or challenging goals. What's the point of a challenge if you know you can complete it? A real challenge should be something you are genuinely not sure you can finish.
So my goal for the London Marathon on 2016 was to try and run it in under 3:10. I really didn't know if I could do it. Happily I came in at 3:09. The goal for my first full iron distance was just to finish. Unfortunately I didn't achieve that, but I learned a lot and I will be better equipped next time.
I took part in my first 100 mile race in 2016. The goal was not just to finish, because I was fairly confident I could do that, but to finish within 24 hours was a target. I made it in just over 23 hours. I rarely think about winning races, but this year I did properly win my first race. I ran a 70 mile race in the summer called the Grim Reaper Ultra and my running buddy Richard and I came in joint winners in just over 13 hours.
Sometimes we won’t achieve our goals and sometimes we will. It’s about learning from the experiences and not allowing it to get you down bit rather to drive you on to do better next time. If you succeed there is always a new, more difficult challenge waiting round the corner.
Q: How do you stay motivated to achieve these goals?
It’s not hard to stay motivated when you are running on top of a mountain in the Canary Islands or cycling through the Lake District. It’s not hard to stay motivated when you cross the line of a race having smashed your previous best time or when you have beaten a rival. Those are the times you have to remember when it’s cold and dark on a Sunday morning and all you’d rather do is stay in bed.
Motivation is all in your head and it’s about taking control and responsibility for your own success. No one else is going to do it for you. There’s no one else to blame if you falter on the day. There are plenty of hours in the day. You just have to find them and make use of them.
Of course we all love recognition. Whether it’s getting your name in the paper or the look of pride on your children’s faces. The thought of my sons or daughter one day competing in similar events, conquering their own challenges and achieving their own goals is a great motivation. My own health of course keeps me motivated. I’m as mindful as the next person of mental and physical deterioration as I age.
For me with Film My Run, producing a good film is also good motivation. I like to inspire others to challenge themselves and if I can make a film which conveys some of the excitement of an event and encourages potential participants sign up, then I’m happy.
Q: What’s in store for you in 2017 and how do you plan your races for the season?
I am in rather an odd position with Film My Run as my year is broken down in to how many races I am booked to film, how many races I want to actually race and how many I want to use as training. I like to take part in official races as often as possible so I don’t have to train as much!! If I am filming an event I will obviously not be racing it as hard as I would otherwise.
As far as possible I always like to be marathon fit, so that means being able to run a marathon at any point during the year. I start focused marathon training in January for the spring marathons. In 2017 I will be running Paris and London. I will be going for a PB in Paris but I will be filming at the London Marathon, so that won’t be fast. Prior to that I have a 100 mile jaunt around the Cornish coastline filming the Arc of Attrition in February.
In May I will be in La Palma in the Canaries for the Transvulcania Ultra. It’s part of the Sky Running Series and has elevation of around 4000 metres over 46 miles and a quad killer 20km descent. I filmed the race last year so in 2017 I will be racing it. In June I will be filming the Blenheim Palace Triathlon and racing the South Downs Way 100. By July we are fully into triathlon racing. Starting with the Long Course Weekend in Wales, followed by Arundel Castle Triathlon and then London Triathlon.
In August I have a week in France, first running and filming the CCC, baby brother race to Ultra Trail Mont Blanc and a week later taking part in and filming the Castle Triathlon Series Chateau Chantilly 70.3. The Triathlon season finishes in September with Helvelyn Triathlon and finally Brighton and Hove Triathlon. There will be plenty of other marathons, the odd half and a few other ultras thrown in for good measure too. Just so I don’t get too bored.