What’s Your Goal? Complete? Or Compete?

Setting a realistic athletic goal


Let’s say you’ve decided to run a marathon. You’ve run 5km and 10km events, but a marathon will be a big step up, and you’re not sure what to expect. What will happen when you hit “the wall”? Will you be able to finish?

An important part of preparing to attempt any athletic endeavour, whether it is pursuing an Olympic marathon gold medal or finishing your first 5km road race, is aligning your goals with your resources. Olympians prioritise training and competition over nearly everything else; the rest of us must fit in our training around work, family, friends and other commitments.

And so, as you prepare for your first marathon (or triathlon, or multi-day hike or whatever), it’s important to figure out how important this goal is to you, and what resources you are prepared to devote to your success.

If you aim to complete your first Ironman triathlon, for example, you will need to spend a lot of time on your bike. A lot of time. And obviously training for a marathon will require more time than training for a 5km.

An important factor in allocating your limited time and energy resources is the result you’re looking to achieve. For example, I like to ask aspiring marathon runners, “Are you hoping to complete a marathon? Or compete in one?” The difference in training commitment can be huge.

Most people can complete a marathon without training at all. A person walking briskly can complete a marathon in around 6.5 hours. Walk a bit slower and you can finish in 7-8 hours. The cut-off time to officially finish the Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon is 7.5 hours.

But if you want to compete, you will want to train. And the training for a five-hour marathon is different to that for a three-hour marathon. To get under three hours, you’ll have to put a lot more work than you will to cross the line in under five hours.

To help you decide how much you want to put into your next athletic goal (and how much time and energy you can realistically commit to that goal), talk to people who have been there – friends, family members and colleagues – or consider hiring a coach. Do your homework, realistically assess the commitment you’re prepared to make, and the rest is simple … follow your plan!


Jeri Chua (MSc Exercise & Nutrition Science) is an accomplished endurance athlete and ultra-runner who got her start as a Singapore national team triathlete. She has successfully competed in endurance events such as the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii, the Ultra Trail Mont-Blanc 168km ultra-marathon in France and the 330km Tor Des Geants mountain ultra-marathon in Italy. She founded the Red Dot Running Company in 2016. Find out more at https://www.rdrc.sg/



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