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How to Set the Right Running (& Fitness) Goals

Having big aspirations is key for success—Whether you want to start running regularly or to finish a sub 2:30 marathon. In fact, I encourage you to think big, go for the gold, reach for the stars and all that.

But just because the mind can perceive it, it does not necessarily mean that you can achieve it. Therefore, unless your goals are well crafted, they can backfire.

That’s why you should take more of a calculated approach and learn how to set the right running goals if you are serious about setting yourself for success, not injury or burnout.

Even if you have an iron will power to tackle a huge running goal, without the right goals and a smart plan, you will, sooner or later, stumble, or worse, fall flat on your face.

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Image Credit – Perdo Moora via Flickr

The Best Goal Setting Process in the World

Today I’m going to share with you my simple step-by-step system for setting good running goals. You are going to learn the exact things you need to do to set the right running goals and go about achieving them in the shortest time possible.

My simple step-by-step system is easy to follow and will get you there regardless of your running goals and fitness level.

But Why would you need to set goals in the first place?

Setting goals while running is the best way of developing and growing, because without them you will suffer from a lack of direction with your training program—something you should avoid like the plague if you are serious about achieving your best.

In a nutshell here is why: You won’t get near your full running potential without having the right goals.

Note: How to Make Running a Habit

Back in May, I wrote a great post about how to form a running habit. I received dozens of comments and emails praising my step-by step system I shared there.

So if you are serious about setting yourself up for success, then you should check that post after reading this.

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Image Credit – Brian Matis via Flickr

How to set Good (and Smart) Running Goals

So without further ado, here is the goal setting process you need:

1. Goals Must be Relevant

I don’t care where you find your motivation. In fact, it can come from anywhere and anything. Nevertheless, the motivation for your running goals must be yours. They should be the things you want to do for yourself and make you proud on the inside; your goals should never be about meeting someone else’s expectations.

And once you find that one thing that you crave more than any anything in the world, it’s going to be nearly impossible to stop you from going after it.

In other words, your goals have to feel right and personal.

So make sure to set a goal that matters to you, and set goals for you, not for your spouse, friends, family or society.

Here are 2 examples

Bad Example: “I’m going to run a marathon next month because that will give me bragging rights all year long” (you never run a marathon before and, sorry for saying this, no one actually cares about your fitness endeavors but you)

Good example: “I’m going to train for a 5K run because I love a shorter course, and it’s the perfect stepping stone for longer distance races.”

2. The Rule of Specificity

When setting a running goal, make specificity the cardinal rule.

Why your goal must be specific?

Here are 2 reasons:

First, a specific goal can increase your motivation because you know exactly what you need to do to attain it.

Just because you are telling yourself that you want to “lose weight by running” or “run for more” don’t make them specific. These are general goals, and they don’t serve much. And being too general and vague will tempt you to give up when the going gets tough.

Secondly, it’s almost impossible to tell whether you are getting close to achieving your goals unless you can measure your progress.

So when you are setting your goals, make sure to add the element of specificity to them by using specific numbers and benchmarks.

No grey areas. There is it in black and white. You want to accomplish this. You want to accomplish that.

If you want to start running, how many times per week exactly do you plan on running? If you want to lose weight, how many pounds do you want to shed?

In other words, you should know exactly what you are after.

Bad example: “I want to run faster”

Good example: “I want to improve my PR in the 5K by one minute and 30 seconds e in 4 weeks”.

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Image Credit – Ulf Bodin via Flickr

3. Challenging but Realistic

Please don’t get me wrong here. I’m not implying that you shouldn’t dream big and set the bar high. But, in most cases, if you set a too big goal that you aren’t really in a place to achieve, then you will be just setting yourself up for a major setback.

In fact, this is why most people give up on their fitness resolutions after only a few weeks, or months. If a goal is too grand, you probably won’t truly commit to going after it because deep down you know it’s beyond your reach.

Let’s face it, not every person can run a sub-2:30 hour marathon or qualify for the Boston Marathon. So while it’s good set challenging and hard goals, it’s also vital to pick the goals that you will be able to attain if you are willing to do the work.

Remember my motto: “Aim to get fit without getting hurt.”

A challenging goal, of course, will get you jazzed, but if it lacks the element of realism, then you are setting the stage for injury and a painful setback. On the other hand, a too easy goal is not that enticing.

So you have to find the sweet spot. Something that’s challenging, but not so overwhelming that’s impossible to accomplish within a realistic time frame.

In other words, if you want to be successful (and happy) in running (and in all other areas of life), then you need to have realistic expectations.

For instance, participating in a marathon would be an achievable goal, while a top 10 finish in that race may not, especially if you are not an elite marathoner.

Disappointment, after all, requires adequate planning.

Bad example: “I want to run a sub-2.30 hour marathon” (and it’s your first race, so it’s unlikely to happen at this stage)

Good example: “I want to run in the X marathon in March the next year so I can have ample time to properly train and get ready for the 26.2 miles”

4. Short Term Goals

How do you eat an elephant? Of course, one bite at a time.

What I do when I’m working toward a big goal—a goal that’s attainable in 6 months or more— is to break it down into mini goals that I can tackle one chunk at a time.

For example, if you are only a beginner, and you are serious about running a marathon, you just cannot go from zero to hero in marathon running.

Instead, the way you go about achieving your marathon goal is to build it up from a platform of smaller successes until you are able to cover the whole distance.

Do plenty of 5Ks, 10Ks, and half marathons before you step in to run the 26.2 miles. Those shorter distance races will help you to gradually build your base without overextending yourself.

As a general guideline, you should be able to reach the mini-goals in two to six weeks.

5. Time them Out

Not only your goals must be personal, challenging, specific, and realistic, they must be set within a time frame.

Here are two reasons why you need to do this:

First of all, setting your goal within a time frame by which you are planning to achieve it helps you to come up with the right action plan.

Plus, a deadline adds urgency. If you leave your goals open ended, then you may find that you keep pushing off your progress, and you will definitely fall into the mindset of “I will start tomorrow” instead of going after your goals with everything you got.

A goal without a timeframe is a wish that will never be fulfilled.

So add a timeframe to your goals so you can create a deadline to work towards.

A good timeframe to abide to is 3 to 6 months. That’s enough time to do the work to achieve it but also close enough to keep you motivated on a daily basis.

Bad example: “I want to run a marathon someday”

Good example: “I will run the X marathon on Y date”.

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Image Credit – Scott Fischbein via Flickr.

6. Write it Down

This is crucial. There is a great power in writing your fitness goals down even if you don’t have yet a clear action plan.

When you commit your goals to paper, you are stating your intentions and instantly making your goals seem more real, and have real weight to them.

Plus, writing down your goals can also keep you honest and hold you accountable for your actions (or lack thereof).

So after you have established your running goals, write them down and keep tuning and tweaking them on a regular basis.

Your written goals must be visible as well, so hang them on your door, office cubicle, bedroom wall, or wherever you could see them on regular basis.

7. Go Public

To make the most out of this, make your goals public and share them with your family and friends. Doing so makes it easier to stay consistent and do all you have to do to make your goals a concrete reality.

By sharing your vision with your social circle, you build a support system that will help you and encourage you when the goings gets tough or when you are slacking.

So share your running goals and make them public. Whether through Facebook, Twitter, your own blog, or even just by telling your family members, and friends.

So put the power of peer pressure to your advantage.

Nonetheless, I prefer not to share my goals with just right anyone. I choose the people I share my goals with selectively, and I only share them with the ones who are committed to helping me achieve them.

Your social circle, after all, can make or break you. So choose the people you disclose your goals to carefully and selectively. Not every person you know is a good candidate.

However, if you feel like sharing them with everyone then be my guest.

Conclusion

Here you have it!

I hope you liked my goal setting process. So please, put it into practice and use it to set the right running (and fitness) goals.

In the meantime, thank you for reading my post.

Cheers

David D.

Featured Image Credit – Project Mexica via Flickr.

Note:This post contains affiliate links. For more check my privacy policy.

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