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On the brink of a breakthrough: Setting and achieving goals

One of Canadian Running's newest bloggers, Thomas Toth, writes about living life as a sub-elite distance runner in search of a big breakthrough.

young fitness woman runner running at seaside

No matter your passion or profession, the feeling of being so close, yet so far away can resonate with many.

I think runners can relate to this feeling as well– perhaps better than anyone else. At the beginning of every year, my coach and I discuss the goals of the season. We talk about certain time goals we want to hit, races to qualify for and how we want to place at specific competitions.

RELATED: Avoiding performance sabotage when travelling as a runner.

Once goals are set, it’s time to build a training plan to bridge the gap between dreams and reality. This means hitting specific times during workouts and checking off the smaller goals that help make the bigger tasks possible. Simply put, its building a strong foundation for larger payoffs later in the year.


Every year I look forward to hitting staple workouts and accomplishing everything that I set out to do. This year, the goal was to qualify for the world half-marathon championships on March 26 in Cardiff, Wales. As I built up, week by week, workout by workout, I knew I was getting closer. I knew that while I wasn’t in the place I wanted to be in terms of my running career, I was chipping away bit by bit.

When I got to Houston, the site of my qualifying bid for the world half-marathon championships, I knew that once the race started, I had to go through whatever pain was thrown my way. I crossed the line in 64:26, more than 90 seconds under the necessary 66-minute mark that I needed to eclipse to be eligible for team Canada qualifying.

That small breakthrough makes the ultimate goal seem more feasible, albeit just a small step in the right direction. It took me two years (during which I thought I was ready) in college to first break 15:00 in the 5K, a significant milestone in sub-elite distance running. It took two years  of near-misses, including running an agonizingly close 15:02, before I would finally run 14:51 at a meet in Kansas. That proved that it just took time and consistency.

Being an athlete on the brink of a career-defining achievement or moment is one of the hardest things to do. Your whole life is put on hold in order for you to chase something that can be seen as arbitrary. Running a specific time or winning a specific race may have little to no effect on your everyday life, but it’s something that we desire to achieve anyway.

This is a feeling I like to equate to Christmas Eve for kids. Sure opening presents is the one of the most enjoyable thing for many kids during the holidays, but would it be as special without those 24 hours of anticipation on Christmas Eve? That gift on your wish list is only hours away from being opened. It’s just out of reach.

I think that’s the closest feeling to being on the brink of success. Knowing that you’re doing all the right things and making all the necessary sacrifices in order to get what you ultimately desire. This feeling is what’s behind every workout.

That’s what keeps a competitive athlete, well, competitive. The urgency to hunt down something you’ve wanted for so long. Once you have it, you find something else just beyond reach.

Thomas Toth is a Canadian elite distance runner living and training in Plaistow, N.H. Click here to see his full bio. Read his previous blog post here.