Achieved Goal Syndrome

By Michael Krueger

Why is it that some people will work out and train for an event only to quit once the event has passed? I call this phenomenon Achieved Goal Syndrome, or “AGS.”

What’s Happening Here?

I have seen this happen so many times that I can’t even guess at what the number might be. The event may be any number of things. Sometimes it is a race, a wedding, a reunion, or even a fitness test for employment or promotion. We accomplish something for the end result rather than gaining from the process and the experience. It is almost as if all the effort that went into it is simply disposable.

The reasons behind the reasons are varied as well, but they all have one common denominator: The choice of the goal was in some way not theirs. They did it to impress someone or because someone asked them to do it or because it was required. It wasn’t their idea so when it was done, it was done.

The most common scenario that I see is when someone (I’ll call her Angie) agrees to run a 5K with a group. It might be a fund raiser or a memorial run, it is almost always for a good cause of some sort. Angie is not a runner, but is assured that “it will be fun.” Despite her misgivings, she is committed.


The Ordeal Begins

The run is in four, six, or eight weeks or six months; it doesn’t really matter–it’s not going to be enough time. The very idea of training for this is daunting, but the agreement has been made. She has even set a regular time to train with other members of the group. Often, this group includes a person who is a runner or at least a sometimes runner and is bubbling with enthusiasm.

Being an upstanding and reliable individual, Angie shows up at the appointed time to begin the training. They all set off chattering and are excited; this lasts for about 100 yards. This is not going to be pleasant.

Angie shows up day after day even as the group thins out a bit. One person gets injured, another has a schedule change at work and it “just isn’t going to work,” and another has child care issues and says she will have to train on her own.

The days turn into weeks, and after about six weeks, training is tolerable though by no means pleasant. The 5K is now in two weeks. This fact creates panic as well as excitement; Angie thinks she just might be able to do this.

Race Day

The weather is perfect the morning of the race. The sun is shining and the temperature is mild. Angie’s stomach is in a knot and other than a little coffee and part of a donut she eats nothing.

The rest of the group shows up and discusses how they expect to finish. Angie says she hopes to still be alive, and they all laugh; Angie is serious.

The gun goes off and they all run on down the road swallowed by the great throng of runners. The excitement carry’s them along for the first mile and then it gets quieter and everyone is determined to run their race. Don’t go too fast, keep with the plan and try to enjoy the experience.

Soon, none too soon for Angie, the finish line is in sight. Music is playing; people are cheering and shouting encouragement. She crosses the finish line slightly faster than she had hoped, and life is good.

Now it is time to bask in the moment. Slaps on the back, a lot of “I knew you could do it,” and it is off to get something to eat and to celebrate a job well done.

The Next Day

Monday morning the alarm rings and Angie turns it off and goes back to sleep. She tells herself that today is a well earned day off and tomorrow she will start in again.

Tuesday the alarm rings and Angie turns it off again. She has a nagging twinge in her left knee that she is sure will be better by tomorrow so long as she doesn’t push it.

Wednesday the alarm goes off and Angie turns it off again without even trying to come up with an excuse. She goes back to sleep, and so it goes.

“AGS” Strikes again

Over the next few weeks, all the work Angie did in preparation of the 5K is slowly ebbing. She doesn’t really care either. The whole experience was similar to studying for an exam. Once it was taken and passed, why continue studying?

The goal was to complete the race, not to get in shape. She certainly got a benefit from all the training. She lost 12 pounds and her resting heart rate improved. She was very proud of having done it, but it really wasn’t her idea.

The runners who continue to run after a race generally decided to run a race after they had been running for a while. They realized that they would enjoy it more and perhaps have an easier time with the training if they had a goal in mind. This is very different from Angie’s experience.

If the race was your idea, it is very likely that you will have another in mind once this one is done. It becomes a progression. You may pick a longer race or decide to see if you can run the same distance you ran before, but just a little faster. You begin to think about your training, checking Web sites, pick up a “Runner’s World” magazine, or even consult with a coach.

You have made a major transition at this point. Now, the process is the goal, and obviously the process never ends. You have become a runner, and are in it for the long term.

Coming Back

Angie isn’t done yet. She is slowly getting back on track, literally. She has taken to running intervals at the nearby high school and has found that they are much more to her liking than long slow distance. She is thinking about training to run a mile event. She isn’t sure of her long term goal yet, but this time she is sure it will be her goal.

I think she is going to make it.


Michael Krueger is an NSCA-certified personal trainer. He got his start in fitness training while serving in the United States Coast Guard. He works with firefighters and others in and around Madison, Wisconsin. He is available to fire departments, civic organizations, and athletic teams for training, consulting, and speaking engagements. He has published numerous articles on fitness, health, and the mind-body connection and was a featured speaker at the IAFC’s FRI 2009 Health Day in Dallas, Texas. E-mail him at 



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