The Goal

The Goal

Sunday, 27 September 2015

Goal Setting Part 3 - Habits you need to make

General Dwight D. Eisenhower the allied World War II commander noted that plans were useless, but the process of planning was indispensable. So it is with pretty much any training plan; the value for the rifle shooter is as much in thinking about what one wants to achieve and what you're prepared to do in order to achieve it, as much as it is in creating a sequential list of activities to follow.
To date, I have set out some outcome goals that I wanted to achieve in 2013 together with the performance goals which identify the level of performance I'll need to achieve; however to this point I have not really set out what it is that I'm going to do.

I want to...

1. Win the CWG Trials
2. Come in the top 25 in all 3 Bisley majors

To do this, I will need to...

a. Average 49.5 or better at short range
b. Average 47.5 or better at long range
c. Make sure my kit is in top condition
d. Improve my cardiovascular fitness
e. Improve my injury-resistance

I need to take my performance goals and work out what level of training and other actions I'm going to need to complete in order to fulfil them. This is very much where the art of planning comes in, rather than the pure science. How much practice does one need to do in order to average 49.5 at short range? Damn good question; and the answer is going to be very different depending on your previous level performance, flaws in technique and level of talent, for lack of a better word. Just as working up to running 100+ miles per week isn't going to turn you into an Olympic marathoner overnight, Mo Farah isn't going to have to break much of a sweat in training to beat me in the marathon no matter how hard I train over the next 12 months. These things are what we in the trade call path dependent, they take time and the outcome depends very much on the route you've taken to get there.

Put simply, the route out of the planning quandary is to take a wild-ass guess at how much training you're going to need to do. To set out my process goals I did some reading, spoke to an awesome physio (she knows who she is) and looked at how much training I had done in the past to achieve similar levels of performance. I created the following process goals...

I will...

I. Train on a SCATT for at least 20 shots at least 3 times every week
ii. Train livefire at least twice every calendar month from March - September
iii. Monitor my performance by writing in my training diary after every practice
iv. Practise visualisation for at least 10 shots four times per week
v. Check my kit after every training session and put it away carefully
vi. Get my rifle checked by my armourer at the start of the season
vii. Jog at least twice per week, covering at least 5 miles in total*
viii. Warm up and warm down before and after every training session and match

Dear reader, I know what you're thinking at this point "Woah, hold your horses a moment Gaz! Didn't you just admit back there that the process goals you have created are little more than a guess." In my case, there's a bit more analysis to it than that because I've been doing this for a while, but if this is the first time you've created yourself a training plan using my approach, then yes, this is essentially correct.

At this point I ask you to consider two things: Firstly, what alternatives do you have? And secondly, I refer you back to the future US president's comments at the start of the post. You've got a plan that you know is going to change as you try to implement it and learn more about yourself and your shooting. This gives you a framework to start to measure and understand what you're going to need to do to hit your mark; and that, ladies and gentlemen, is the value of the planning process.

We've planned the work, but I'll talk a little bit more about working the plan next week.

*I slightly over-performed on this one. The running got a little out of hand and I now run about 50 miles per week, have done three half marathons, one full marathon, am training for my second marathon and have entered my first 50 mile trail ultramarathon.

Sunday, 20 September 2015

Goal Setting Part 2 - Just how awesome do you need to be?

There's a lot to be said for ignorance combined with a positive attitude. In particular, it make for great stories: the young maths student who unknowingly proved a previously undemonstrated statistical theorem, mistaking them for homework (as shown in the film "Good Will Hunting" but actually a true story); the plucky young English runner who entered the Ultra-Tour du Mont Blanc and accidentally won it the first time she competed.

Unfortunately, for the vast majority of us who want to try break out of the ordinary and attempt something extraordinary we have to do this knowing the challenges we face and very conscious of our own limitations. It is with this in mind that we need to think about how we take the outcome goals that we have set ourselves and take the next step in turning it into something practical upon which we can take action.

In 2013, I set myself two key goals:
  1. Win the Welsh Commonwealth Games trials; and
  2. Come in the top 25 in all 3 Bisley Majors: Grand Agg, St. George's and HM Queen's Prize
To take this further, I needed to work out what level of performance I would have to achieve in order to reach the goals (and, further, how much training I would need to complete to do so.) In the case of both of these, it comes down to simple numbers: I needed to average over 49.5 at short range and 47.5 at long range.

Beyond mere scores, I'd been thinking about other ways to improve. I'd done a serious amount of work on my technique, but I hadn't really done anything physical to help my shooting so I decided to add some performance goals relating to my cardiovascular fitness and injury resistance. The first of these might make some sense to you; however the injury-resistance might be giving you some difficulty. A couple of factors influenced me here: firstly the number of shooters I know who have serious back problems from years of abuse; and secondly, the serious muscle cramping I get between my spine and my right shoulder blade after several days of shooting, which I was sure was having a negative effect.

I now had a couple of solid outcome goals and some performance goals. I will:
  1. Average 49.5 or better at short range
  2. Average 47.5 or better at long range
  3. Make sure my kit is in top condition
  4. Improve my cardiovascular fitness
  5. Improve my injury-resistance
Two of these goals are ludicrously specific, measurable, relevant and timely but may not be achievable and have large risk factors outside of my control. The other three are not terribly specific and therefore not meaningfully measureable, but are definitely relevant, achievable and within my control. None are tied to a specific timeframe yet.

We're getting somewhere, we're still a ways from having a set of goals we can use to generate a training plan but by  thinking about what we want to achieve in a broad sense, we're really just following good planning discipline: working out where we want to go and how to get there. Any good project manager will tell you that we also need to have answers to other questions: do we have enough time, money and other resources to get there? What's going to get in our way? And, how do we know we're making progress? More on these next time...

Monday, 14 September 2015

Goal Setting Part 1 - What do you want to achieve this year?

In the chronically underrated work of genius that is Michael Lehmann's film Hudson Hawk, starring Bruce Willis, Andie Macdowall and most importantly Richard E. Grant, the insane billionaire Darwin Mayflower declares unashamedly...

"...happiness comes from the achievement of goals..."

While I'm not sure that I entirely agree with the sentiment, there is an element of truth to it; and more pertinent to the matter in hand, if you're like me then having a goal will motivate you, and achieving that goal will bring both a deep sense of satisfaction and a yearning for something possibly a bit more stretching.

It is generally a couple of months before the start of the season that I generally start to think about my goals for the year. In my current circumstances, this has become considerably more complicated  as the result of work, running, Commonwealth Games trials. Those factors together with the fact that I now live about as physically far from Bisley as it is possible to get without leaving the surface of the planet.

The classical way of thinking about goals is the SMART model, wherein goals should be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and timely:

Specific - The goal sets out in unambiguous and objective terms what you hope to achieve and how you will know if you've achieved it.

Measurable - It is possible to make some kind of measurement or observation to let you know whether or not you have made progress towards achieving your goal or have actually achieved it.

Achievable - You are capable of reaching the goal that you have set yourself; although it should not be so easily reachable that it is a foregone conclusion. Sometimes it can be difficult to calibrate.

Relevant - If the goal is part of a bigger plan then it needs to be relevant to achieving the wider goal, and any activities undertaken to try and reach that goal need to be relevant to it.

Timely - The goal should either set a deadline for achieving the goal or describe how often / much you will do a particular action.

As a framework to get you started, it's not too bad but I do think that it has some flaws: firstly, it appears to be predicated on the idea of reasonableness of goals and the individual control that you have over them. I've previously commented that wanting to win a Commonwealth Games medal or a World Championship is a wholly unreasonable goal and one over which you have limited control. I argue that doesn't necessarily make it a bad goal, provided that you do break it down into more detailed, controllable goals which relate what you're going to do to achieve it. That said, you need to have an element of realism to your goals; if you've been shooting fullbore for only a couple of years, haven't every shot a possible and have never made it into the top 200, setting a goal to win the 2016 Grand Agg is probably a little overly ambitious.

Secondly, it doesn't really distinguish different levels of goals within any kind of hierarchy: you're going to have some strategic "outcome" type goals (the two unreasonable goals listed above, being good examples). At the other end of the spectrum, you're going to have some very specific and discrete goals; and finally there are going to be some in the middle, which we'll call "performance" goals. A valid approach should probably take these into account also.

The process of goal setting I advocate begins with setting out the highest-level objectives that you with to achieve, and the breaking them down from there. Here's my list of outcome goals in 2013 by way of example.

I will...

1) Win the Welsh Commonwealth Games trials; and
2) Come in the top 25 in all 3 Bisley Majors: Grand Agg, St. George's and HM Queen's Prize*.

I think that gets right to the point; however it has a number of flaws as a training plan. I don't outright control any of these goals; other competitors could shoot better than me, for example. It also doesn't really do anything for me. I could just as easily have written "Win HM Queen's Prize" and I'd be none the wiser about what to actually do about it. These goals need to be broken down further into something a bit more relevant. I'll talk more about that next week.

In the meantime, have a think about what you want to achieve in your shooting in the next shooting season.

* NB - In the SMART framework, these goals are very specific, perfectly measureable, entirely relevant, achievable (for me) and time-bound; however they are not controllable and so would often not be considered good goals. I disagree, for reasons which I hope will become clear over the next few posts.

Friday, 4 September 2015

It's raining, it's raining...

Keen-eyed readers will have noticed that I took a week off posting last Saturday. I've not run out of things to say, rather I spent the evening that I normally use for writing my blog preparing brass for the start of the fullbore season here in NZ. I spent it lubricating, sizing, cleaning and primer pocket uniforming while watching Mythbusters on TV. Who says you can't get anything worthwhile done while you're reloading?

Anyway, on to the subject of this week's post.

Before I moved to New Zealand to live, I had only been here in summer and no bugger thought to tell me how much it rains in Auckland. It probably doesn't help that we live out in Waitakere at the edge of what is essentally temperate rainforest by a huge harbour within 10 miles of the sea, but the sheer volume of it is spectacular. Maybe it has just been a particularly wet year; however it seems like a good idea to brush up on how to shoot in the rain.

The most critical issue when shooting in the wet is to keep your ammunition, chamber and bore free of droplets of water. If these get significantly wet then it is very likely that you will suffer an unpredictable but severe elevation change. Additionally, you are likely to want to keep your scorebook at least reasonably moisture free. As a final consideration, you may wish to keep yourself dry also; although this is by no means a necessity.

The rifle
It doesn't matter that much if the outside of your rifle gets a bit wet, provided that you take it out of the bedding and dry it off at the end of the day (do NOT put a damp rifle away, as that is a recipe for rust) but you must keep the inside of the action, chamber and bore as absolutely dry as possible before and during the shoot. A few spots of rain probably won't do you much damage, but a few big droplets on your boltface or in the chamber are very likely to stuff you.

To manage the amount of water getting into these critical areas I do the following things:
  1. Get the rifle into the shoulder quickly, without elevating the bore too much. It is possible for water to enter the bore that way. Certainly don't rest with the butt on the ground and the bore in the air while it's raining. Apocryphally, at least one first stage of Her Majesty the Queen's Prize has been lost this way.
  2. After you have fired your shot, take the rifle out of the shoulder and wipe the area around the loading port with a beer towel before unlocking the bolt. Leave the action and loading port covered until it's time to get into the aim again.
Eagle eyes and other lenses
In the season when lenses in the foresight were first made legal in the UK, I remember the first stage of the St. George's being absolutely sodden with the result that a huge number of people had their scores wiped out when their brand spanking new Eagle eyes got sodden. It is pretty inevitable that your lens is going to get wet when it rains, but there are a number of steps you can take to avoid this kind of clusterf***ery:
  1. As with stopping water getting in the bore, don't hang around when getting the rifle in the shoulder.
  2. Treat your lens with RainEx or another hydrophobic coating which will make the water bead up and not smear the lens. It is worth checking that the stuff you're going to use won't degrade the material your lens is made of before doing this.
  3. Always have a small packet of absolutely dry tissues with you when you shoot in the rain to dry the lens if you have to. It is worth practising how to do this without ruining your position. Do not use a damp tissue as this will just smear the water about the lens, which is almost certainly going to be worse than just having a few droplets on it.
  4. Under no circumstances should you use canned air to dry your lens in the rain, as this is very likely to cause serious condensation.
On that last point; just before the start of a particularly wet 600x during the Intercounties a couple of years ago I was first man down and elected to stay down in position during a rainstorm which temporarily stopped shooting on the grounds that I was comfortable despite being already soaked. I really wasn't going to get any wetter at that point. I was all set to dry my lens and carry on at message 1 when a team-mate used canned air on my foresight, which resulted in condensation so bad that I had to come off the point and competely take my foresight apart to dry it before I was able to begin my shoot*. In the dry, it's probably fine. If it's raining or very humid, don't do it.

If you wear shooting glasses, much of the stuff written above also applies to them. Wear a big hat. Don't look up any more than is necessary to keep a good eye on the flags. Have some clean, dry tissues or lint-free cloth handy.

Scorebook, ammunition etc...
Keeping your scorebook, pens etc... is worthwhile but it is imperative that you keep your ammo dry.
The patent on weatherwriters is due to expire sometime soon (really, they are/were under patent) and the ludicrous price should come down when a bunch of generic versions come on the market in the next few years. Buy yourself one of these for your scorebook. If you get a really big one you coulld probably put your scorecards and ammo box in there also. Put your ammo in a box with a lid and put a beer towel over it.

You, the shooter
Different people have different philosophies on this one**, but my personal view is that you should shoot in all conditions wearing and using as close to the same kit as is possible. When I talked about shooting in the heat  I said much the same thing; however what I didn't say that I probably should have done, and was reminded to by my good friend Bob is this: "Think cool." Similarly, mindset is critical to shooting in the wet if you're going to adopt my philosophy because I don't wear any additional wet weather gear.

For the less hair-shirted and/or bloody-minded amongst you, a good pair of waterproof trousers may help. Unfortunately, I've never tried shooting in a cape or any kind of waterproof over my jacket, so I can't help you beyond suggesting that you give them a try and find out what works for you.

Alternatively, at least one shooter I know swears that in bad weather less is more. He frequently wears shorts and flipflops in all weathers on the grounds that the less you wear, the less there is to get wet. Your mileage may vary.

On a final note, like much in shooting, shooting in the rain is an acquired skill. Don't skip practices in the rain because you think you know how to do it already, or don't want to get wet. GBRT has lost at least one major match I can think of for precisely this reason. Be positive about shooting in the rain and think thoughts like "I'm going to shoot at least as well as I normally do; the rain often damps down the wind; other shooters don't keep their standards up in the rain; it's a good opportunity to pick up some places in the Grand."

* The universal gas laws tell us that by expanding when they exit the spray, the gases in the canned air are doing work against the surrounding atmosphere so they cool down. When their temperature gets below the dew point, then they will cause condensation in damp air.

** As Yamamoto Tsunetomo, the famous 16th Century Japanese author and proto-rifle shooting blogger wrote in his respected tome Hagakure "There is something to be learned from a rainstorm. When meeting with a sudden shower, you try not to get wet and run quickly along the road. Running under eaves of houses you still get wet. When you are resolved from the beginning you will not be perplexed; although you get the same soaking. This understanding extends to everything."