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How you can use goal setting to get – and stay – in shape

Some people finish a marathon, or climb Mt. Whitney, or get down to a certain weight, and that's it.

That's their finish line. 

They view that particular challenge as a sort of bucket-list accomplishment, and when they cross that finish line, they all but cross out fitness as a priority in their lives.

They stop doing the things that helped them attain their goal and revert to poor habits. Soon enough, they're out of shape again (or have gained back all the weight).

That’s why, when I reach the finish line of a marathon, I’m ready to sign up for a future race or races, perhaps as far as a year down the road.

I’ve found that setting goals, consistently and realistically, make the difference between viewing a lofty accomplishment as the ultimate achievement or seeing it as another step in what should be a bigger, more long-range goal -- good health, long life and a feeling of fulfillment.

It’s true in other areas as well, such as nutrition or strength training or yoga, or even in seeking to improve careers and relationships.

Here are three goal-setting tips that I’ve found can really make a difference:

1. BE ACCOUNTABLE

Accountability is crucial. If sometimes I'm not so good at holding myself accountable, I've got a number of people in my life who are willing to help me in that regard.

Tell your goals to your family and friends. Get them involved. There's nothing like friends expecting you to be at the Liberty Canyon trailhead at 7 a.m. for a 16-mile run in the Santa Monica Mountains to get you out of bed on a Saturday morning.

Family members and friends will likely be supportive of your goal, impressed by it, and proud of you. That boost in self-esteem feels good and encourages you to stick with the plan.

2. BE REALISTIC

Set goals you can accomplish.

I would love to run a sub-three-hour marathon, but at my age, that's probably not going to happen.

There are many goals I can come up with, though, that are challenging enough to feed my competitiveness yet not so difficult that they are practically impossible.

For example, I can shoot for top 10% in my age group in a big marathon like Boston or New York, or I can shoot for winning or placing in my age group in smaller races.

I can challenge my fitness level by running multiple marathons back to back. Last year, I ran the Los Angeles, Boston and Big Sur marathons in a six-week stretch.

3. BE KIND TO YOURSELF

Choose a goal that takes you to your happy place.

If you're a cyclist and you love beautiful scenery, there is no shortage of available organized rides. One of the best is the Solvang Century, a gorgeous 100-mile tour that snakes through the Santa Ynez Valley wine country.

My bliss is running the Boston Marathon. I love the city, its people and the way it embraces running. The goal of qualifying for Boston year after year is a good fit for me; it's tough but doable, and the payoff is amazing: another long weekend in Boston with family and old friends and, of course, lobster rolls.

It’s possible to combine all three tips and come up with a long-range goal that keeps paying off.

Here’s mine:

There's an elite group of runners who have finished at least 25 consecutive Boston Marathons. They call it the Quarter Century Club. There are fewer than 100 active members.

I would like to become a member one day, and so I strive toward that, even though I got a late start. God willing, I'll run my 10th Boston in a row in 2018, and my 25th in 2033. I will be 77.

Tough, but doable.

There will be many finish lines before then. But to me, they aren't really finish lines at all. They’re more like progress reports.

David Leon Moore, 60, has run 28 marathons since he turned 43 and is currently training for the New York City Marathon in November and the California International Marathon in December.

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