How to Set And Achieve Your Running Goals

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Goals are like a road map to results. Without knowing where you’re going, how do you know when you’re there? While you can run without a set goal, it will make a huge difference to your performance if you have boxes to tick.

When it comes to how to set and achieve your running goals, there’s no wrong way of doing it. But the best way includes choosing personal goals, creating a training program that supports them, and moving forward until you achieve them.

Here’s our advice to set and achieve your goals based on years of running casually and competitively.

Why Are Running Goals Important?

Running goals are essential if you want to improve. Like everything in life, the best way to progress is to have something to work towards. Without measurable goals, you won’t know if you’re improving or falling behind.

Your goals will also guide your training. For example, if you’re running to lose weight, you might prefer to focus on setting calorie-burning goals for each run. On the other hand, if you’re working towards a marathon, you need to work on increasing your distance.

It’s important to note that running goals don’t need to be huge and lofty. Sometimes, just getting out and running daily is a good goal. For others, aiming for a marathon is a worthwhile goal.

Your goals might also change over time. After running a marathon, you might want to have a goal of recovering and maintaining your base. Or maybe part of the year, you want to focus on increasing your weekly miles, while other times, you want to focus on increasing your speed.

The key is to set goals that are just out of your reach. Yes, you can have more long-term goals that require prolonged effort to reach, but the best way to stay motivated, see progress, and improve is to set short-term goals that are realistically reachable.

What Could a Running Goal Be?

Running goals can vary widely. If you’ve never run before and want to do a Couch to 5K program, that’s a running goal. Just getting up off the couch and out on the road can be a great fitness goal.

Also, remember that you don’t need to set only one goal at a time. You might want to train for a marathon, improve your running form, and take a few seconds off your 5K time. You can easily work towards all types of goals at once.

Run a Race

If you’ve been running for a little while, but you’re still technically a “beginner,” the most common goal is to enter and complete a race. This might just be a local 5k, or it could be longer or destination races.

Remember that once you’ve run a particular race, you can set the same goal again. But it’s also important to set goals that help you improve, which requires a little more reach.

Improve Your Stats

Races aren’t the only worthwhile running goal. Whether you’re running competitively or not, there’s always room for improvement regarding your performance, i.e. speed, cadence, distance, time, etc.

Even small improvements are important. If you only run a few yards further than your last run, that’s progress. If you only run for 30 seconds more, that’s progress!

Alternatively, you could set goals like “Run X miles per month” or “Finish X races this month.” Ultimately, it’s up to you.

Better Your Health

Nutrition, hydration, and stress levels make a difference in your running performance. Your goals can also include things like:

  • Drink 70 ounces of water per day.
  • Eat only whole, healthy foods (no processed food).
  • Stick to calorie counts (if your goal is weight loss).
  • Get 8 hours of sleep each night.
  • Meditate or journal daily.

These are easy to implement in your daily life, no matter what your running goals are.

But it’s worth mixing your running and health goals because the better you do with them, the faster you’ll be able to close in on your running goals.

Challenge Yourself

Find ways to add challenges to your workouts. Motivation might be hard to come by sometimes, and throwing in new challenging goals can help prevent boredom and keep you on track.

You can get creative with this! Here are some ideas:

  • Try a new form of cross-training.
  • Do running drills to improve your form.
  • Find new, unknown places to run each week.
  • Add speed workouts (if you aren’t already doing them).

How to Set and Achieve Your Running Goals

Setting goals and achieving your goals are closely linked. Here’s how to set realistic goals for you and the steps to give you the best chance of achieving them.

Assess Your Current Fitness Level

Where you are now is important. This will dictate which direction you should be going in to reach your goal. So the first step to setting and achieving your running goals is to assess your fitness level honestly.

If you’re a complete beginner, you must steer your goals to that. If you’re experienced, you should set goals that will challenge you to keep pushing yourself to reach them.

Be honest here. There’s no point in over-selling yourself—the only person you’re fooling is yourself, and it will only set you back!

Set SMART Goals

The best way to set goals is to use the SMART principle. This will give you the best chance of attaining them.

Here’s what SMART stands for:

Specific

While general goals can work, like “Run every day,” specific goals are much more likely to be met. Be as specific as possible because this will help you to figure out how much you are improving.

Setting your specifics can make a big difference. Something like “Run at least 2 miles every morning between 5 pm and 6 pm” is specific and sets you up to know exactly what to do!

Measurable

“Run further than I did yesterday” is a vague goal. But if you’re serious about improving your performance, something like “Run an extra ⅛-mile every time I run” is a more specific, personal goal… And measurable.

Not only will this boost your sense of accomplishment every time you achieve it, but you’ll find that your motivation and confidence will continue to increase.

Having a number on your goal means you can track it properly as you progress. This makes a huge difference because when you see the numbers change, you know you’re moving forward!

Attainable

If you started a Couch to 5K program yesterday, setting an overly ambitious goal to run a marathon is not attainable right now. The best way to set goals is to make them just out of your reach. Something that’s a challenge but doable.

That doesn’t mean you’ll never be able to run a marathon. It just means that it’s not an appropriate goal for you right now.

Relevant

Your goal needs to be relevant to you. If you don’t have an attachment to your goal or a personal reason for doing it, it will be harder to reach. The key here is to consider why you want to reach this goal.

Rather than thinking something like, “I want to lose weight,” think about what you’ll get out of it. “I want to feel comfortable in my skin, fit into those old jeans I love, and feel confident in public” is a better reason!

Time-Bound

Putting a time frame on your goal helps keep you on track. You can have a goal to run a marathon, but if you leave it open-ended, it could be years before you actually do it.

However, if you have a goal to run a marathon this time next year, or in the first half of next year, or for your birthday… That gives you a definite time frame to achieve it.

Break Down Your Goals

Breaking your goals down into smaller steps can help you get there faster. In most cases, your training plan will automatically split things up for you, but it depends on what your goal is.

If you aim to run a marathon, you’ll be hitting smaller goals as you move through your training plan. For example, you’ll be extending your mileage each week, which means you’re progressing and hitting smaller goals.

Other goals aren’t worked into your plan. For example, if your cadence is currently 150 and you want to get it up to 170, it won’t happen overnight and your training isn’t automatically going to help it improve.

You should work on increasing slowly. Aim for a cadence of 154, and see if you can maintain it for a week or so. Then, aim for 160, and see if you can maintain that. It’ll take time, but breaking it down means you’ll see progress sooner than if you try to go straight for 170.

Create/Find a Training Plan

Following a plan is always the best way to reach a goal. In most cases, you can find a plan online that’s designed to help you reach the goal you’ve set. Most plans are designed to help you train for a specific race, like a 5K, a 1K, a half-marathon, or a marathon.

If you have statistics goals instead of race goals, you may have to build these into your training plan. For example, if you’re interested in boosting your VO2 max, you might want to tweak your program to include at least one HIIT workout and one long run.

You’ll need to cater your plan to your goals to an extent. Sometimes it’s not possible to change up your program to cater to all your goals, so you’ll need to prioritize them.

Monitor Your Progress

Use an app, a watch, or even a running journal to track your progress. Doing this regularly lets you see patterns and compare your current and previous stats. This is an excellent way to see how far you’ve come.

How to Stay Motivated

Motivation can wane, especially as you start to plateau. Here’s how to stay motivated and keep pushing through.

Adjust Your Goals As Needed

Your goals aren’t set in stone. You can adjust them as you go, change them completely, or get rid of them and set new ones.

Sometimes, you might need to adjust your goals to match your current performance. For example, if you’re starting to struggle during your workouts, it might be a good idea to lower the frequency, intensity, or duration of your workouts for a week.

This will give your body a better chance to recover, which can help you to perform better and gain a bit of strength to move forward more powerfully.

Celebrate Your Achievements

When you do reach those small milestones along the way to your bigger goals, celebrate your achievements! Every small step is an important part of getting to the bigger goal.

Don’t go overboard with celebrating, but definitely do something to congratulate yourself for getting this far. Allow it to motivate you to keep pushing ahead and climbing that ladder until you reach your big goals.

Common Challenges Runners Can Face

Being aware of these possible challenges is half the battle won. If any of these are relevant to you, you can make plans upfront to get around them.

Time Constraints

Your running should be balanced with other daily responsibilities. You need to work around family, work, studies, and other commitments, which can make it tricky to be consistent with your running schedule.

If your life is busy, you might want to make backup plans if things go wrong. Or, you might need to choose a different schedule or a more flexible training plan that works with your schedule and not against it.

Unfavorable Weather Conditions

If you live somewhere that’s overly hot, excessively cold, or has poor air quality, it might be more difficult to stay consistent with your training.

The best way to counteract this is to invest in a treadmill. This allows you to create your own running environment—you can put the AC on if it’s too hot outdoors or heat the room a little if it’s cold.

Plateaus

There always comes a point where progress slows down to a crawl. It can be quite demotivating, especially if you’ve been training hard and seeing good progress up until then.

The good news is that it just needs a few tweaks to your training schedule to help you get over that. You might need to up your calories for a week if you’ve been cutting them, which might sound counterintuitive but works.

Or, you can mix up your training schedule a little or add a new form of cross-training. These things can help to shake things up and kickstart that progress again.

Unexpected Life Events

Life happens. If you’ve got a job and a family, finding the time to train consistently can become difficult. Unexpected events, working overtime, or personal commitments can make it hard to stay consistent and hamper your progress toward your goals.

Be prepared for unexpected events that set you back. Give yourself permission to ease up if unexpected events occur, but be realistic.

Things like illness, deaths in the family, and accidents are impossible to plan for, so allow yourself the space to deal with them. However, things like “having a bad day” shouldn’t be an excuse to skip a day of training!

Burnout and Overtraining

Both beginner and advanced runners fall prey to this! If you don’t allow your body enough time to recover between your exercises, it’s easy to overtrain, leading to nasty consequences.

As a beginner, you might get so excited about seeing progress that you forget to give yourself a break! But even experienced runners can get so focused on a goal that they prioritize training over rest, leading to burnout.

You should be resting fully at least one day per week and have a recovery plan. This might include stretching, yoga, cold plunging, compression gear, foam rolling, and anything else that aids in muscle and cardiovascular recovery.

Boredom

Boredom is one of the most common running problems. It’s a very repetitive motion, which makes it easy for it to become monotonous. Thankfully, you can make your runs a little more exciting by putting some thought and effort into them!

  • Put together a great playlist to listen to while you run.
  • Choose a different running route for something new.
  • Run with a friend or family member every now and then.
  • Buy a new shirt or sweatband to run in.
  • Alternate between the treadmill and the road/trail.

Mental Barriers

In many cases, your head trips you up before your body! If you aren’t progressing as fast as you thought, it’s easy to start wondering if you’re good enough or chopping and changing between different methods inconsistently.

Overcoming these challenges can be tougher than physical challenges. It’s different for everyone, so you may want to try a few different things to break those mental barriers. Things that may help include:

  • Meditation
  • Visualization
  • Affirmations
  • Daily journaling
  • Creating a vision board
  • Speak to a running friend
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AUTHOR

Ben is an avid road and trail runner, and has completed multiple marathons and ultras. A former running store owner, he now shares his knowledge and experience writing these articles.