Setting Meaningful Running Goals

It’s the time of year when many runners are reviewing their annual goals and setting new ones. However, setting meaningful goals for the year isn’t as easy as it sounds. Some runners know exactly what they want to achieve – maybe to complete a specific distance, run a certain time in a race, or complete a number of miles for the year, and now need to work out how to achieve this goal. Other runners may simply want to relax and enjoy their running without the pressure of specific times. Or you may be in a third group, where you know you want a target to motivate and excite you, but haven’t decided what that will look like. Whatever category you fall into, read on, there’s useful advice to be found below…


Why set goals?
Research has shown that setting specific goals, in running and in other areas of life, helps to motivate you and create a sense of excitement and fun. They contribute to an increased commitment and performance, but can have a dark side too. Runners who don’t meet their goals, for whatever reason, can see this as a personal failing, that they just aren’t good enough or not progressing enough.


So how can you set meaningful, positive, running goals?

  1. Set specific goals
    They don’t need to be race target times – they can be improvement based (e.g. to get a PB at a specific distance); consistency-based; socially based (joining a club, starting run leading, volunteering at parkrun etc.); or even simply completing a certain distance or running further than you’ve ever run before. SMART is the acronym you’ve probably heard before, but it still stands true (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timed – where timed stands for when you plan to achieve it by, rather than a race time!)


  1. Go for tiers of goals – A, B and C
    Success should be viewed on a spectrum rather than one specific point. Who knows what will happen that is beyond your control – you may get ill or injured, or face poor weather conditions on race day. External factors shouldn’t mean your hard work is wasted and setting a tier of goals can solve this. Your A goal should be what would happen if everything goes well in training and on the day – your ideal (realistic) outcome. The B target would be a very good outcome that would make you happy and C target something you would be satisfied with. For example, if you want a sub 4 hour marathon, and your current marathon best time is 4.20, you could set your A goal as anything under 4 hours, your B goal as any PB (under 4.20) and your C goal to be run a great race and make good decisions in tricky circumstances– a process rather than a result oriented goal.


  1. Set process goals as well as target goals.
    Celebrate the smaller wins not just the overriding goal. Annual goals are particularly tricky – anything could happen in the next year (as we found out in 2020), so have some wins along the way. Maybe you celebrate completing all the long runs on your marathon training programme, doing some smaller races, getting out 4 times a week instead of 3…Consider a ladder of smaller goals building up to your main one.


  1. Know your why.Research suggests that athletes who are happy long term have an internal and positive why. Make sure your why isn’t just about external validation, it is one you are excited to pursue, regardless of what others think.
    Make sure you enjoy the daily process required to achieve your goal. If you don’t like long runs, consider whether training for a marathon or ultra is really for you.


  1. Make sure your goals are challenging but realistic for you.
    As a coach, I find that clients often set unrealistic or overly challenging goals.  For example – some goals are incompatible – mileage targets or run streaks often cause problems as they don’t always go well with time or race targets. High mileage can cause fatigue and reduce your top end speed, run streaks can force you to try and run when you shouldn’t be, increasing the risk of injury.Realistic goals also work within your limits – we all have physiological limits (is that 15 min 5k honestly a realistic goal for you?), as well as lifestyle limits. There’s no point fighting things that are out of your control. Consider whether what you are sacrificing is worth it, or whether you can adjust timeframes (not all targets have to be achieved this year!)


Goals chosen – what next?
Write them down! Somewhere you can revisit them. Break them up into ABC tiers and then look at smaller goals – basically, the steps you need to accomplish in order to achieve this goal.

Consider what support you want in achieving your goals – do you want to share? Do you want help with training? Who do you ask if you have questions? How do you motivate yourself or make yourself accountable? And who are you going to celebrate your success with?

Don’t forget, for support and help you can turn to a coach – you can join my Facebook group for free, where you will find a friendly supportive environment to help you achieve whatever you want

You can join MH Runners Club where you can get weekly coaching advice in the Ask the Coach sessions (as well as workouts, coaching advice and more) .

Or you can visit Martin Hulbert Run Coaching and look into getting a personalised plan and support to help you achieve your targets .


A final word – write down your goals, share them if you wish, enjoy the process of working towards them, but please remember progress isn’t linear. As long as you are consistent and improving, you are winning!


Good luck with your 2022 goals – let us know what you decide on and how you get on!


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Martin Hulbert

Running Coach & Personal Trainer Leicestershire

MH Health and Fitness Online Community