I'd argue that your finish time is one of the goals you should be least concerned about.

It’s easy to set a goal for the time in which you hope to finish a specific race—or, at least it should be if you’ve been training properly and know a little bit about the course. But I’d argue that your finish time is one of the goals you should be least concerned about.

Why is it important to have a variety of goals set along the way for race day? Well, imagine yourself halfway through your race, and let’s say something unexpected occurs—you get your fourth flat tire or you end up cramping in a way that severely throws you off your game—and you no longer stand a chance of hitting anything close to the finish time you’d hoped for. Is the day then completely shot?

Not necessarily! You can still come away from the day with some wins (and maybe some important lessons learned). This is especially true for new triathletes, because while seasoned athletes have likely seen plenty of curveballs and will be prepared to overcome them on race day, those new to the sport might find themselves easily discouraged to see that goal finish time slipping away. And that doesn’t exactly build excitement about signing up for another race.

3 Race Day Goal Ideas Outside of Your Finish Time

1. Set goals for your individual events. It’s not uncommon to have a really strong showing in one part of the race and run into trouble in another. For example, you might have a really excellent swim and bike because it’s a beautiful, sunny day with no wind to throw you off … but those same conditions could make the run portion brutally hot.

Experiencing a bad run is a bummer, but if you’ve had a solid race otherwise doesn’t it make sense to give yourself credit for the parts that went well, and then look at how you can address the parts you found more challenging?

2. Focus on the things over which you have control. The weather. The competition. The road conditions. Once you’ve committed to doing a certain race on a certain date, these things all fall outside of your control—which means setting goals that can be affected by those factors isn’t in your best interest.

So, what can you control? Lots of things! You’re in charge of your nutrition plan, so set a goal to follow it to a T. You know what your particular challenges are on each leg of the race, so tailor your goals to help you overcome them. Do you tend to cut your swim stroke short? Set a goal to use a lengthened stroke and glide the whole way. On the bike, consider aiming for a specific cadence rather than speed, which can be affected by wind and hills. On the run, if you need some walk breaks, set goals for what that should look like (maybe run four minutes, walk for one), then stick to that plan.

What’s great about small goals like these is that you then give yourself the opportunity to remain positive all throughout the race—plus they’re all simple ways to help you improve your performance.

3. Make your mental game work for you. Triathlon is obviously a physical sport, but there’s also a serious mental component. If you know you tend to struggle with the mental aspect and find that negative thoughts tend to play a big role on race day, then set a goal to stay positive. When a negative thought comes barreling in—like, “I’m so slow” or “I can’t do this”—bring your thoughts back to something more inspiring. This might mean having a mantra ready to go (which is something that’s great to work on in your training!). You might find that simply having a clear reason for being out there (like a friend or family member you’re running for, or even the sheer fact that you’re physically capable of training for and participating in a triathlon) is helpful.

To be clear, the goal here shouldn’t be to avoid negative thinking—just the idea of negative thinking as part of the goal actually makes you more likely to engage in negative thought patterns! Instead, strive to give your mind a positive place to go when the going gets tough and consider it a triumph when you make it happen.

Now, I’m not saying you should go nuts celebrating the fact that you managed to hydrate properly if you have a terrible race—it’s absolutely okay to feel disappointed when things don’t go as planned. But finding small wins, even in what you perceive as an overall loss, can help you stay positive and confident leading into the next race. And in a sport that provides us with so many opportunities to feel … well, let’s say humbled, isn’t it important to take a confidence boost where we can?

Kristen Seymour is a USAT Level 1 Certified Coach.