Setting MTB Goals

Setting MTB Goals

It’s all too hard

How often do you find yourself saying things like “I wish I was lighter”, “I wish I was faster”, “I wish I could climb stronger”, “I wish I was fit enough to enjoy a big race” etc etc. Most of us find ourselves not saying these types of things once, but repeating the same thought many times over long periods of time. For some reason, we just don’t seem to get it done. Let’s look at why this may be, and how we can change that and tick off a few of our own wishes from our list.

One of the biggest deterrents to goal achievement is the end goal seems too hard, or too big or will take too much time to achieve. But there are strategies we can use to help us structure an action plan to get through it and make the dream possible. Many of you will have heard of making your goals ’SMART’ and you might even be able to remember the meanings for each letter in the word itself. However, these are just the start, and in and of themselves, will often only get you so far. It’s still a great place to start though so we’ll spell that out first.


S = Specific

Set goals that are defined and as singular as possible. Don’t try to roll up several goals into one and expect to achieve them. Also, make sure the goal is as specific as possible. As an example, the goal might be ‘Complete the next Convict 100, 68 km length’. Don’t put down ‘Ride the Convict 100’ or ‘Race in a 100 km race’ for instance. These aren’t defined well enough and may limit your effort or action plan. By making the goal ‘Complete the next Convict 100, 68 km length’ you have set a deadline for a particular race and distance in that race. You may even add a time limit to complete the race itself but be careful not to put too much pressure on yourself.

M = Measurable

Your goal needs to measurable so you know you have achieved it. Setting a goal of ‘Riding a lot more’ is not particularly measurable so set the goal something more like ‘Ride my MTB at least 100 km per week for 8 weeks’. Any sub-goals related to the main goal need to be measurable as well.

A = Attainable

Your goals should be personal achievements for yourself and therefore, they should be attainable by YOU. No point setting goals that are too high or have a low percentage of success. This just erodes your confidence and sets you up for failure. By all means challenge yourself, but keep the goals within an attainable range according to your lifestyle, health and commitments that can and will interfere with your efforts to achieve the goal. Factor in weather as well. Setting unrealistic goals, such as ‘riding at least 20 kms every day for a year’ are very likely to be thwarted by weather events or other unforeseen factors.

R = Relevant

Make sure your goals are relevant to who you are and direction you truly desire your MTB riding to go. No point being an avid cross country rider and then setting a downhill racing goal on a whim or dare. Stick to goals that are part of your personal passions and desires. You are more likely to stick to them and succeed.

T = Time

Ensure your goals have an end date. If your goal is to be able to ride your usual loop at an average of 20 kph, then be sure to add by what date you want to achieve this, remembering it must be attainable also. Goals without deadlines often get pushed aside and a large part of your motivation to achieve them is not there.

Ok, so now we have the commonly used ‘SMART’ theory to work with, how do we actually go about making a plan to achieve our goal? Just understanding the ‘SMART’ system doesn’t actually get you out there does it? It has hopefully helped you to set an end goal that is specific, one you can measure, one that is challenging but still attainable, one that fits with your passion for mtb and when it needs to be achieved by. It’s now though we need to look at actual steps you will need to take to make it all happen. The action plan itself.

Setting An Action Plan

Write It Down

The first thing is don’t do this in your head. You won’t remember it properly, you won’t have any visual motivations and therefore probably won’t stick to it, Either use a computer/phone spreadsheet or similar, or good old pen and paper. Yes, we can still pick up pens and create words and stuff by dragging them across a piece of paper. Either way, it’s important to write down your action plan one way or another. This helps the plan sink into your mind and become more real. The time you put into writing the plan becomes part of your commitment and motivation to succeed. It also serves as a constant reminder of your goal, but more importantly, how you are going to achieve it. 

Break it down

As mentioned earlier, goals often seem too big or distant to achieve. Be sure to set some ’SMART’ sub-goals to act as stepping stones along the way. Each sub-goal should follow the ’SMART’ strategy as much as possible. We’ll add a sample action plan at the bottom of the article as an example of how these sub-goals fit in. Let’s say your main goal is the 68 km long race mentioned above, and that race is 10 months away. That’s a long time to try to stay motivated to train if you haven’t got other smaller goals to achieve along the way. So then, your action plan will have the main goal at the top and set the deadline for it, but under that will be a set of sub-goals for you to focus on and achieve at regular intervals along your 10 month journey. So, what would a sub-goal look like then? Well, let’s say the race has a big fire road climb in it that worries you. One of your sub-goals might be to comfortably ride a similar length climb in your area at a specific average kph. You may even need to set one or more steps for achieving that sub-goal. The steps might be riding a shorter climb at that goal speed or maybe the same climb at a slower speed but by a certain date. As you achieve these easier steps and sub-goals you gain confidence and motivation towards your final goal. Another sub-goal might be riding rocky, downhill terrain safely. You might set steps to achieve this sub-goal as well. For instance, you might get a coaching lesson specifically on dealing with this type of terrain. 

Maintain measurements

As you can see, we often talk about using specific units of measurement such as time or average speed to help you be able to measure your progress. Set up a spreadsheet or rule up a notepad to record your efforts along the way. As you train on a climb for example, record each effort down with the date and time and/or average speed so you can compare the next effort to the previous ones. You might ride the climb once a week. As the weeks pass, you’ll be able to see if and how you are improving.  Looking back on this data is highly motivating. Before beginning a major mtb goal it is helpful to have a benchmark. In the case of our ‘Complete the next Convict 100, 68 km length’ scenario, you might work out a 30 or 40 km ride to use. You would choose a ride that incorporates similar features to the race you are training for. Ride this at a decent effort and record your time and average speed. It might be helpful to record anything you ate and drank along the way as well and what the conditions were like. Every few weeks you should repeat this benchmark. If your training is going well, you should see some steady progress most times.

Be Flexible

Be aware also that as you progress through your action plan, and the months pass by, you may need to adjust or adapt your action plan. It may be that you are achieving sub-goals too quickly, or too slowly. Don’t be afraid to make adjustments where you need if this will keep the overall goal attainable. You may be going so well that you feel you can toughen your main goal. Be careful with this. It’s easy to make the goal unrealistic. Often we progress at a high rate early on with such an undertaking, but level off or even plateau late in the plan.

So, where are we now then?

We’ve looked the parameters our goals need to be set by, and how we then break the goal down into sub-goals and steps to form a more motivating and ‘bite sized’ way to achieve it. By doing this, we no longer get unmotivated by focusing on the main goal, but rather focus on achieving various smaller, related goals along the way. At any point we can pull out our notepad or spreadsheet and see how we’ve improved and achieved. We feel prepared and have confidence we can achieve our main goal, or adjust it and still have a ‘win’ rather than abandoning. Lot’s of positive steps create an overall positive experience. 

Sample Goal Action Plan (using our scenario above)

Please note: This is just a basic example and is in no way suggesting how you should train for this event.

Goal – Complete the next Convict 100, 68 km length

Description – Complete the race with a reasonable level of fitness.

Deadline – 4 May 2019

Sub Goals to achieve in 40 weeks

  • Gain fitness to ride an mtb for 68 k’s by week 30 – target is 18 kph av spd
  • Gain climbing strength to handle the big climbs in the race by week 30 – target is 13 kph av spd
  • Gain better skills on rocky descents by week 10

Week 1 

Ride at least 50 km for the week
Ride benchmark 30 km ride to set benchmark time/av spd.

Week 2 

Ride at least 70 km for the week
Include 1x climb during the week (use the Yuelarbah Trail and Easy Way out)

Week 3

Ride at least 70 km for the week
Include 1x climb during the week (use the Yuelarbah Trail and Easy Way out)

Week 4

Ride at least 50 km for the week – target av spd of 13 kph
Benchmark 30 km (take note of av spd)

Week 5

Ride at least 80 km for the week
Include 2x climbs PER RIDE (use the Yuelarbah Trail and Easy Way out)

Week 6

Ride at least 80 km for the week
Include 2x long climbs PER RIDE (use the Yuelarbah Trail and Easy Way out)
Include 1x rocky descent coaching lesson

Week 7

Ride at least 80 km for the week – target av spd of 13 kph
Include 1x long climb during the week (use Mt Faulk Rd to the top of the Watagans) record as benchmark.
Include 1x climb during the week (use the Yuelarbah Trail and Easy Way out)
Include 1x rocky descent practice

Week 8

Ride at least 50 km for the week- target av spd of 15 kph
Include 1x long climb during the week (use Mt Faulk Rd to the top of the Watagans)
Include 1x rocky descent practice
Benchmark 30 km (take note of av spd)

Week 9

Ride at least 100 km for the week
Include 1x rocky descent practice

Week 10

Ride at least 80 km for the week- target av spd of 15 kph
Benchmark Hill climb (use Mt Faulk Rd to the top of the Watagans)
Set new benchmark course and time of 40 km to use for next 10 weeks.

And so on for the 40 weeks. The Benchmark distance and hill climbing become mini goals for you to strive for and are the motivation to keep training leading up to them. The plan can be far more complex (set out specific training sessions on specific days etc) if you wish but must remain achievable. 

Obviously if your goal isn’t to do with racing then you adapt your action plan to suit. 

Hopefully this helps those who want to set challenging goals have a better chance to realising those goals.