From Couch Potato To Half-Ironman: Goal Setting Simplified

Written by Darren Kanthal

September 13, 2022

From Couch Potato To Half-Ironman: Goal Setting Simplified

You wanna do what?!  Are you outta your mind?! And you want me to do it with you?!

That’s how I responded to my sister Marissa when she asked me in 2016 if I wanted to do a Half Ironman with her.  Have you ever heard of ‘Couch to 5k’?  Well, Marissa wanted to go from Couch to Half Ironman. To put this into context, a Half Ironman goes in the following order:

  • 1.2 mile swim
  • 56 mile bike ride
  • 13.1 mile run (this is a half marathon if you’re wondering)

Like I said to her, are you outta your mind?

But, I listened. She explained that she wanted a goal that was just for her. She wanted a place where she was just Marissa – not mom or wife. She wanted a goal that, once completed, she would be proud of. And she wanted me to do it as her partner in crime.  She also knew I’d be the only one in our family to say yes. I didn’t disappoint her.

I can’t think of a more recent or historic example of such a long-term goal in my life.  If we would have gone from that remarkable day in 2016 and thought about crossing the finish line 5 years later, it would have been overwhelming and daunting.  We probably would have gotten exhausted just thinking about all the training and steps to get there.  And we would likely have talked ourselves out of doing the race before we even started training.

The Half Ironman is a historic example of such a long-term goal in my life

I see the same thing happen time and time again in my coaching practice. My client will have a big goal (for example, a new job, improved relationship with their spouse, greater control and self-awareness of their self-sabotaging behaviors, or “fill in the blank” ).  Then, right in front of my eyes, I watch them go from excitement, enthusiasm, and optimism about the importance of the goal and how life will be so much better when they reach the goal to spinning out of control with all the steps to get there, how hard it’s going to be, envisioning the failures they expect, and so on.  

This spinning leads them to slumped shoulders, frowning faces, and a general feeling of being defeated.  And just like that, the goal is deflated and lying in a heap on the ground.  Mind you, this evolution happens all in a matter of a few minutes, like 2 to 5 minutes.

The point is this, goals are hard.  And if they’re big enough, they’re really f*cking hard!  When goals are big and transformational and important, it can seem all the more difficult to achieve them.  

The Key is Simplifying The Process 

So as a coach, how do I suggest you approach it? Simple – we simplify! We take something that is generally complex and break it down. We identify the broader roadmap – and then we fill in with the specific twists and turns, lefts and rights, that it’s going to take to get there.  

I like the analogy of a house. If we think of going from a dirt plot to a fully completed, beautiful house that we’re going to move into tomorrow, we’ve lost. That’s impossible, and we’re defeated before we even begin. Yet, if we break it down into the many steps that all, collectively, lead to the house being built, we can start to tick off the accomplishments that get us closer to the goal.  For example, the first step is to build a foundation, then we put up the walls and roof, then we add in plumbing and electrical, and so on (but don’t hold me to this – I’m not a home builder!).

For the Half Ironman, Marissa and I started with an Olympic distance triathlon (.9 mile swim, 26-mile bike, and 6.2 mile run (aka 10k)).  Was that an easy goal?  HELL NO!!!  Like I said, Marissa had been surfing her couch, and although I was more active than she, I wasn’t THAT active. 

We both dedicated and committed to the goal.  The bigger goal was the Half Ironman, and even though we were working towards it, we were initially focused on the Olympic triathlon.  We trained.  We experimented with food, drink, and nutrition.  We tried different sneakers and apparel.  And most importantly, we supported each other.  The atta girl/boy and high fives for completing great training or going farther than the last swim, bike ride, or run were what kept us going – and the same for sh!tty training that was a constant and annoying grind.

We trained, experimented with food, drink, and nutrition, and supported each other while training.

How To Achieve Your Big Goal

One of the greatest things I witness over and over again as a coach is helping people achieve their big goals.  Not because I have a magic wand or magic beans, but because we figure out the small steps it will take to achieve the big goal.

To me, it’s a generally simple process to get there:

  1. Identify the big goal – equipped with the reason for the goal, why it’s important, how life will be different when you achieve it, etc.
  2. Recognize who your supporters are – you’re going to need them as you experience the many highs and lows of your path to get there.
  3. Ask for help – it’s a great strength to feel brave and secure enough to admit you don’t know everything and you could use someone else’s help.  And remember, just because they gave you input doesn’t mean you need to do anything with it.  Rather, ask the people you trust for help and see what you get – I’d be willing to bet you’ll be positively surprised.
  4. Break the big goal into smaller, bite-sized chunks that you can achieve in shorter timeframes – for Marissa and I, the 5-year goal was first broken down into annual races, then a winter training schedule to build a strong base before the spring training that was more specific to the big goal. Then each week, we had a plan.  
  5. Be flexible – undoubtedly, life will throw you some unexpected things.  Instead of resenting life and the challenges you face, be forgiving and offer yourself grace.  Your ability to be flexible and roll with the punches will ultimately serve you in the long-run.
  6. Celebrate each win no matter how big or small – there’s much to say about positive ju-ju.  The more you acknowledge each success, each of those small steps that are aligned on the roadmap to the bigger goal, the more likely you are to stay on the path.

Summing It Up

On September 26, 2021, in Cozumel, Mexico, Marissa and I completed the Half Ironman.

What’s your Marissa-crazy idea that you’ve always wanted to do?  Maybe it’s not a ridiculously hard physical feat like we did, and yet, if it’s big enough, I’m sure it’ll be respectively hard and rewarding.

On September 26, 2021, in Cozumel, Mexico, Marissa and I completed the Half Ironman.  She finished at 6 hours, 51 minutes, and I finished at 6 hours, 44 minutes.  Both of us beat the goal of 7 hours.  Check on finishing the race.  Check on beating our time.  Check on feeling really proud of ourselves and each other.

Darren Kanthal

Darren Kanthal, Founder of The Kanthal Group, is a values-driven leadership and career coach with over 20 years of experience in HR and Talent Acquisition. Darren is intensely passionate about helping mid-career leaders cut through the BS, do the foundational work, and achieve their greatness.


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