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5 important things to remember when setting effective running goals


Setting effective running goals is surprisingly hard to get right. Whether you’re training for your first 5k or looking to run your first half marathon, running goals help you keep on track.

Many runners make the mistake of setting vague goals in the hope of achieving them, when in fact they need to be Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time Bound.

In other words, they need to follow the S.M.A.R.T goal setting framework!

How to set effective running goals

Instead of setting a goal such as “I want to run faster”, you can use the S.M.A.R.T format to really narrow down your goal and make it specific.

By doing this you make the goal come to life. Once you’ve really thought what your goal looks like, you’ll also become much more accountable for the goal and more motivated to achieve it.

The key to any form of goal setting, whether it be for your professional or personal life, is making it real for YOU and nobody else.

In this blog post, I’d like to explain the S.M.A.R.T goal setting framework and how beneficial it is for runners, as well as provide some tips on setting effective goals.

running goals

Be specific

When setting a goal, it’s important to make it as specific as possible. Ask yourself: how much faster do you want to run?

Do you want to achieve a specific time or just shave off 10 seconds of your run time? What distance do you want to run – a 5k, 10k or half marathon?

Also, when do you want to achieve your goal? Do you have a specific date in mind? Make this an attainable time frame.

Here are some example running goals using the S.M.A.R.T framework:

  • “I want to run 5k in 30 minutes or less by August 2019.”

  • “I want to run 10k in 1 hour or less by October 2019.”

  • “I want to run a half marathon 15 minutes faster by September 2019.”

  • “I want to include at least 30 minutes of strength training each week for six weeks.”

Make it measurable

Measuring your progress is a great way to motivate yourself and really see how far you’ve come in a short space of time.

Ask yourself: how will you measure your progress? Good measuring techniques will allow you to track how you’re doing and help you maintain momentum week in, week out, especially on those early morning training runs.

Consider getting a run tracking app or sports watch to keep track of your running times and pace.

There’s nothing more rewarding than noting down your pace per mile then realising next week that you’ve managed to knock a few seconds off it.

Likewise, if you’ve set yourself a goal of running faster and your watch is telling you that you’re on track to beat your PB, you’ll be more motivated to complete your run.

Make it attainable

Is your goal realistic and attainable? Many runners make the mistake of taking on too much when they first start running.

Excuse the pun but running is a marathon, not a sprint. When you first start out the temptation is to sign up for every race going, but you need time to build up your strength, endurance and speed.

Running a 5k is normally the first milestone distance for a lot of new runners, so setting a goal of running a marathon in less than three months time probably isn’t a wise move!

If you’re a beginner runner, I suggest you tackle a 5k first then go into complete larger events like 10k and half marathons later on. This way your body will have time to get used to the different distances.

By setting realistic and attainable goals, you have more chance of achieving them and minimise the chance of burning yourself out within the first few months.

Make it relevant

Are your goals suitable and relevant to you? Just because your friend is using a particular training plan, or you’ve seen someone run a 5k in under 25 minutes doesn’t mean their goal is right for you.

You will be much more motivated to complete a goal you set yourself if it is meaningful to you personally.

In the running world, there is sometimes pressure to run for longer and longer, but if you don’t enjoy long distance running, then don’t set a goal that entails running a marathon.

To this day, my favourite race distances are 5k and 10k. Not because I can’t run longer than that, I just prefer these distances to half marathons and marathons. Stick to what you enjoy and don’t feel guilty about that.

Make it time-bound

When do you want to achieve your goal? Many runners make the mistake of leaving their goal open-ended.

By not including a deadline, you will be more likely to put it off, or risk not doing it at all. I know when I’ve had a deadline to work towards, I’ve been much more motivated to go out on my runs each week.

Consider signing up for a race early and give yourself time to ease yourself into your training plan.

Look to break your overall goal into smaller, more manageable goals.

For example, if your long term goal is six months away, what do you want to achieve each month? This way you have less chance of overwhelming yourself early on.

More tips for setting effective running goals

Here are some more tips when it comes to setting effective running goals:

  • Reward yourself. Don’t forget to congratulate yourself every time you achieve one of your goals, or one of your short term goals if you’re in it for the long term. This is crucial in building up your motivation and keeping you in the game.

  • Don’t be modest. Don’t be afraid to shout about your achievements! Tell family and friends, consider joining a running group or running Facebook community, set up an Instagram page and share your running journey with other beginner runners. These are all great ways to get that much needed support as running is hard sometimes. You’ll be surprised by how much support and motivation you receive.

  • Track your progress. I cannot stress this enough. Tracking your progress is essential to any goal setting exercise. Like you would do in a job or at school, tracking your goals is important to see how far you’ve come and how far you’ve got to go to reach your end goal. Note down your pace on each run and how many miles you’ve run. This is why running apps are so great because you have a log of all your runs. I strongly recommend you download one.

  • Join a running group. I’ve said this many times on my blog but joining a running group can be a game changer for a lot of runners who perhaps lack motivation or confidence when they run on their own. There are so many great running groups out there, you’re bound to find one that suits your goals.

  • Follow a training plan. Training plans are a great tool to follow when you first start running. In fact, they’re important tools for beginner runners and advanced runners alike as they offer week-by-week informed guidance when it comes to training for a particular race distance. Find a training plan that suits your goals and you’ll be setting yourself up for success.

Setting effective goals doesn’t have to be complicated. The S.M.A.R.T goal setting method is great for both long term and short term goals.

You can set sub-goals as part of a larger goal to break it down into manageable chunks so you don’t overwhelm yourself.

Set your S.M.A.R.T goals today! It’s good to reevaluate goals throughout the year to keep growing as a runner and athlete.

Caroline Geoghegan