6 Tips for Setting and Reaching Running Goals

by Holli Childs

Sometimes, like New Year’s Resolutions, goals seem like something to be set and worked toward for an amount of time before life gets in the way and those goals fall by the wayside.

My goal is to help you (and myself) become better at setting and creating running goals.

1. The first thing to do is figure out why you want to achieve that goal.

Do you want to run to lose weight? Is someone going to pay you $150 to run a marathon? Do you want the self-satisfaction of knowing you challenged yourself and succeeded? Any of these reasons, among many others, are fantastic reasons to set a running goal. But, if you don’t know why you are working towards your specific goal, it will easily take a backseat to the everyday stresses of life. And, if you are like me, it will make you feel slightly guilty or depressed when you don’t end up reaching the goal.

2. Understand the difference between long-term and short-term goals.

A long term goal is the overall end point you want to reach. The short term goal is the day-to-day or week-to-week execution of a plan to get you to your long term goal. For example, my long term goal is to run a marathon this year. That is kind of vague, but definitely something that can be measured. My short term goals consist of creating or finding a training plan to use, choosing which race I want to be ready for, and then attacking each day of running. The key is to make the small, short term goals, easy to reach each day to give the satisfaction of having accomplished something. An example of a daily goal I have had while trying to reach my goal of running a marathon was to run ten miles on the treadmill. To summarize, short term goals are necessary to reach your long term goals.

3. Set specific goals.

A goal needs to be specific. It is too easy to set a vague goal that doesn’t allow us to stretch and grow in the process. For example, deciding that you want to run more regularly is not specific. However, if you define “regularly” to mean four times a week, you have something you can work towards. That is an example of a long term goal. To expect yourself to go from sporadic running to regularly running four times per week overnight is a little bit unreasonable. It is more reasonable to decide that you are going to run once a week for a month, and then increase from there. However, having a short term goal does not necessarily mean you have to stop there. If you want to run twice in one week, go for it.

4. Goals need to be measurable and attainable.

A measurable goal is one that you can determine whether or not you achieved. The previous example of running more regularly and then defining it is a good example of a measurable goal. An attainable goal is one that you know you can reach, even though it might be a challenge. Again, using the goal mentioned above, you know you can attain it because you are going to set short term goals to help you get there. The goals to run four times a week may not be attainable right away because of schedule, or your body isn’t ready to handle it. However, the smaller goal of running once a week for four weeks is much more attainable.

5. Realistic goals are on a realistic timetable.

You need to consider the strains on your body, schedule, and psyche that setting a new goal can have. Make sure you plan around that in goal setting. For example, if your goal is to run a marathon, don’t pick the next marathon that sounds fun and register for it. Take a look at where you are at physically and when the marathon will occur. Ask yourself if you can be ready by then. You know your running limits. Consider training rules that will help you avoid overuse injuries. Then, select the marathon that gives you enough time get ready, but will still allow you to have fun and challenge yourself.

6. Finally, find someone to hold you accountable.

Whether it is a spouse, friend, significant other, or family member, having someone check up on you is a great way to keep you motivated. Their encouragement is also helpful in getting you past the wall (or walls) that will inevitably be in the way of you reaching your goal. But, conquering those walls will grow you in ways you never thought possible, both as a runner and a person.

Remember, setting the goal is as important, if not more so, than the work put in to actually reach the goal. Always remember why you set the goal. Keep in mind the difference between long term and short term goals. Use that to your advantage is reaching awesome distances and heights in the running world, or in life in general. Remember that good goals are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and on a timetable (SMART). And remember to hold yourself accountable to those goals, but don’t give up if you miss a goal! Just reevaluate and keep trying. You will succeed.

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