Setting Running Goals
Updated: Apr 15, 2020
How to set running goals, achieve running goals, and celebrate running goals.
What is a goal? A goal is an end result that you are aiming for and desire to achieve. Setting goals provides a focus to training and helps keep motivation levels high.
What are your goals?
“By recording your dreams and goals on paper, you set in motion the process of becoming the person you most want to be. Put your future in good hands - your own.” - Mark Victor Hansen
Goals should be personalised and based on what motivates you to run. I recommend setting two goals. The first goal should be a personal goal, the second should be a SMART goal.
This goal should be intrinsically motivated meaning that it is personal and meaningful to you and won't be recognised by a medal, award or even anybody else! These goals are measured by actions and feelings, rather than a specific outcome.
- I want to be a stronger runner.
- I want to feel confident on trails.
- I want to be feel fitter and healthier.
- I wanted to improve my endurance.
Apply these generalised goals for the duration of your training plans. There's no specific measure at the end, and only you will know if you feel like you've achieved the goal.
These goals are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-specific. These goals are likely to be extrinsically recognised, such as with an official time or a medal.
- I want to run Paris Marathon in under 3 hours in April 2021.
- I want to run a sub-20 Parkrun by the end of July 2021.
- I want to complete my first 54 mile ultra in Summer 2022.
- I want to get a 200m PB by the end of the year.
Training plans are often built around these SMART goals and they require a lot of hard work. It's very clear if you achieve the goal or not. If you do, the feeling is immense. If not, all is not lost. It's time to learn from the training block and apply that to your future training.
Why are goals important?
Goals are important in keeping you focussed and on track. You should use your motivations to help you set your running goals, but equally having set goals helps to keep you motivated.
Example: If getting faster is what motivates you to run, then set a speed-related goal. This goal could be: I want to be a faster runner (personal) and I want to get a 5k personal best by the end of June (SMART). As you see you your times improve and you get closer to reaching your goals, this will also feedback into keeping you more motivated to stick to your training plan.
The reason I always like to set two types of goal is because it fulfils a sense of achievement even if you don't reach your SMART goal. SMART goals are great - they can really push you to your limit and test your boundaries. At the same time, they are very intense and can put a lot of pressure on you. Hard work pays off, but it's also important to recognise that sometimes things don't work out. Race days can go wrong - the weather might be bad, you might have been unwell in the lead up to the race, or you might have had an off day. It happens! But if you've only set a SMART goal it can feel like all your hard work over the training period has been for nothing. Training is never for nothing! If you have a personal goal you can hopefully reflect and feel a sense of achievement for what you have been able to do in your training period. No, I didn't get a PB. BUT...Yes, I am stronger. Yes, I can run further.
How can I use my goals?
Stay focussed. Just like with identifying motivating factors for running, it's important not to lose sight of your goals. Write your goals at the top of your training plan so you stay focussed on them.
Make your coach aware (or a running buddy). Accountability ensures you stay on track. Telling one person or a close group of friends is useful as you can check in on each other to make sure you are sticking to your training regimes. It also means you can discuss things that have gone well...or gone wrong! Support like this is invaluable. Be cautious with telling too many people though. Announcing your goals to a big audience can be useful if it makes you feel like there is no option but to succeed and this drives you forward, but be mindful that this can also create a lot of unhealthy pressure and distract from the love of the sport.
Adapt your training to reach your goals. There's no point setting a goal that you don't work hard for. Design a plan, or find a plan, that is suitable for your ability and for your end goal.
Finally...accept praise, acknowledge achievement and celebrate success. There's no need to think you're Usain Bolt, but my god if you've reached your goal after a lot of hard work then shout about it! Call your friends, post about it on Strava, and wear your medal all the way home - you deserve to. Equally, if you know somebody else that's achieved a goal, congratulate them. Positive reinforcement keeps us going and motivates us to reach even bigger goals. The running community is a great place and success should be shared and celebrated.
- Set a personal goal and a SMART goal.
- Tell somebody about your goals to keep you accountable.
- Acknowledge when you achieve your goals and celebrate the achievement.