Fall goals: Set ‘em now

I was noodling around the internet a couple nights back when I came upon the the Second Empire Grand-Prix 2010 Fall Series. I started checking the races in the eight-part series, then thought, “What am I doing? I need to focus on my summer goals (a half marathon, a mountain century bike ride) before I can even start thinking about the fall.

Actually, Sage Rountree corrects, this may be the perfect time to start thinking about goals for the fall. Rountree lives in Chapel Hill and is perhaps best known for her yoga-for-athletes books and clinics, which she conducts internationally. She’s also a coach, working with both elite and beginner athletes, and a marathoner (3:43:00 at Boston 2008), Ironperson (13:08:17, Ironman Coeur d’Alene 2009), ultramarathoner ( 5:10:45 in this year’s Frosty 50K trail race). And she has two kids.

“Picking your next goal before your race is the perfect way to channel that extra energy during the taper,” says Rountree.

While I haven’t quite begun to taper — the Roan Moan is just a week out but the Rock ‘n’ Roll half marathon isn’t until Sept. 5 — I knew what she meant. Two big goals I’ve yet to tackle, but they will soon pass. Then what? The last thing I want to do is let months of training fizzle while I ponder what’s next.

When I mentioned the Second Empire fall series, Rountree was on board.

Sage Rountree likely was thinking about her next race when she finished this one.

“Series are great,” she says. “They’re a way of sustaining a goal. In the triathlon series, for instance, it takes the pressure off any one single race. You approach it as part of a whole.”

And, she adds, you establish a sense of camaraderie. “You see the same competitors, you go up against the same people in your age group.”

I like a series for another reason. There were eight races in Second Empire’s Spring Series. In my age group (50-54), no one did every race and only two guys did seven. By my cyphering, if I had done all eight (I did one: the Second Empire 5K Classic), I might have cracked the top 10 finishers. (The No. 10 guy only did three races.) Persistence, in a series based on cumulative points, equals glory.

A series isn’t the only kind of sustained goal. Fall is when a number of 0-to-5K, walk-to-run training programs kick in. I’m a graduate of the Fit-tastic program offered through The Athlete’s Foot in Cameron Village. The 10-week program, which begins Aug. 18, takes non-runners and gradually introduces them to running. At first, you run a minute, then walk for two. Over time that ratio flips until you’ve weeded out the walking altogether and are capable of running the entire Monster Dash 5K (3.1 miles American) on Oct. 31. The program launched in fall 2008, has added a spring version, and has had 425 participants. (For more on beginner runner programs, check out this GGNC post from March 31.)

For runners, in fact, fall is the time to ramp up. Cooler weather means more races, from 5Ks to marathons. Cyclists are more likely to suffer what Rountree refers to as the “post-partum blues,” as the onset of cooler weather and shorter days causes a significant drop in planned events. But they aren’t without options, either. A century ago, pro bike racers in Europe got antsy in the off-season. So they came up with cyclo-cross racing — basically racing modified road bikes off-road — which gave them reason to train between the warm weather road events. Today, cyclo-cross racing stands on its own, and the North Carolina Cyclo-Cross Series gives Tarheel cyclists reason to keep racing throughout the winter.

A long fall hike at Crowders Mountain is an admirable goal. (Photo courtesy North Carolina State Parks.)

Your fall goal can be whatever you make it. Races are good, so are classes, and chances are your municipal parks & recreation department has a wide offering for the fall. Here in Cary, for instance, there are various levels of Taekwondo (beginner, for families, for kids as young as 4), dance classes, cardio classes, aerobic classes and yoga classes (including chair yoga), as well as assorted team sports (basketball, volleyball, softball), a tennis ladder — pert near anything you’d want to do. You can even come up with your own goal: By Thanksgiving, be able to hike the 7.2-mile Sycamore Trail at Umstead State Park, or the 6.2-mile Ridgeline Trail linking Crowders Mountain State Park west of Charlotte with Kings Mountain State Park in South Carolina, or the 5-mile Moores Wall Loop Trail at Hanging Rock State Park.

The point: Fall needn’t be a wind-down time. Start planning now and you’ll find plenty of incentive to keep working. The season may be winding down, but you don’t have to.