The goal could be to complete 10 pushups or get into the gym three times a week.
The goal could be to finish the Ironman Triathlon World Championships in Hawaii -- as four Long Islanders will attempt to do Saturday.
The goal could be to walk for 30 minutes; or run the same race for 30 years in a row, which is what Mike Baard of Merrick is planning to do at the upcoming Rockville Centre 10k (6.2 miles), a race he has done every year since 1983.
If you want to maintain the kind of consistent training needed to truly realize the benefits of exercise, you need a goal. "This is the most important thing a person can do mentally to help them get fit," says sport psychologist Jack Bowman of the Mind Plus Muscle Institute in Port Jefferson Station. "The goal-setting process can allow a person to succeed or fail."
The key, Bowman says, is choosing one that's "SMARTER" -- the acronym he has concocted to describe the characteristics that define a successful fitness goal: Specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, time-framed, exciting and recordable (meaning you can keep track of it).
"Goal setting can be highly motivational," Bowman says. "You set a goal, all of a sudden you're energized."
That's how it happened for Baard. He had just started running when he entered the 1983 Rockville Centre 10k. "I knew nothing about preparations," recalls Baard, 58. "No warm-up. I sat in the car until I heard the announcement that the race was about to start."
He completed it and said, " 'That was great!' I decided I'd do it again the following year, and try to run a little faster." That started a pattern. "I just kept coming back," he said. "It became a tradition."
Race streaks are not unheard of: A handful of local runners have done the Great Cow Harbor 10k in Northport every September since its inception in the late 1970s. There are prodigious running streaks in the Boston and New York City marathons, too. But Rockville Centre? Held on a flat course and at a nice time of year for running, the midsized event attracts about 1,000 participants between the 10k and 5k. Still, it's hardly a national-class event. But that doesn't concern Baard. "This is my annual fitness test," he says. "It comes near the end of the year, so you can look back and say, 'I put all this work in and it paid off.' And that motivates me for the next year."
Even when next year is . . . well, next year. In 2012, Baard was set to run the race, when it was canceled due to superstorm Sandy. Now it's back, and so is he, for this year's edition of the race, on Nov. 9.
Bowman thinks Baard's 30-year achievement "teaches us that you have building blocks in goal setting . . . in his case, one year at a time . . . and the importance of enthusiasm about what you're doing. If you love the mall, go there and walk in the morning consistently and make that your goal."
Baard realizes that running the 10k in less than 35 minutes, as he did years ago, is no longer realistic. "My goal," he says, "is just to be there and finish, for the 30th time."