As the new year approaches, it’s time to start thinking about new running goals. Whether you’ve been a runner for years and want to improve your stats or you’re brand new to running, setting goals is an important step to improvement. Having specific goals can help you stay motivated when running gets hard and can help you get the most out of your training.
Too many people go into training plans haphazardly and end up burning out. Let’s face it: running isn’t always fun — especially when you’re starting your training in January. The temperatures are cold, and daylight dwindles sooner than most of us would like. By setting clear running goals, you increase the likelihood that you will persevere through the winter months and come out successful.
When setting running goals, you need to create goals that will actually inspire you to train. This is a little more complicated than it seems, especially with the uncertainty of the 2021 racing season. We’re all hopeful that it will be safe for more in-person races to happen next year, but who knows? With or without in-person racing, you can still see personal improvements in your running and have fun along the way.
When thinking about your goal for the season, start wide then narrow it down. Are you looking to improve your speed? Your distance? Your endurance? What is the big thing that you’re hoping to accomplish this season? Don’t pack too much into it, especially if you’re new to running. If you try to accomplish too many things at once, it’ll get complicated and overwhelming. Just pick the overarching running goals that you’re hoping to improve.
Example: I would like to be able to run further without stopping.
Next, ask yourself why you want to improve in that area. If you have a personal reason for wanting to achieve your running goals, you’re more likely to follow through with your training when it gets tough. Make note of why it’s important to you.
Example: I get out of breath quickly when I run, and I don’t want to have to walk so much. I think I’ll have more fun at races and will feel healthier when I can run further without stopping.
A SMART goal narrows down your overarching running goals to make them more concise. SMART goals are:
- Specific — it should state exactly what you hope to accomplish
- Measurable — when you’re done, you can clearly say whether you did it or not
- Attainable — the goal needs to be realistic for you and your abilities
- Relevant — it should directly relate to your motive
- Time-bound — there should be a clear end date
By narrowing down your goal, you change it from vague to clear. This gives you something to focus on that you can meet with success.
Example: I will be able to run for 10 minutes without stopping by March 1st.
Now that you have your SMART goal with your end date set, break down the steps that you will need to take to achieve it. Adopt a training plan that you can follow to help you meet your running goals. Whatever your goal, there’s probably already a training plan for it. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel here.
Example: I’ve found a plan that will let me start by only running 1 minute at a time and slowly build my endurance to 10 minutes.
Identify what will get in the way of meeting your goal. As you’re going into the new year, what barriers do you foresee coming at you that might make you stop training? Of course, you’ll have the usual cold and darkness of the winter months, but is there anything else? Don’t worry too much about the unknown — there will always be unexpected difficulties. Focus on the barriers that you know to expect. Then identify what you will need to do in order to overcome those barriers.
Example: I know that I don’t like getting cold while I’m running and that I might give up on training if I get cold too much. So, I’m going to buy the right gear to stay warm while I’m running, and I’m going to take a hot shower after my training runs to warm up quickly.
You’ve set your running goals and made your plans, now you just have to do it!
If you follow the steps above, you will set successful running goals for the new year. However, there are a few extra things that you can do to make your goal-setting experience more fun.
- Sign up for a race. By committing to a race, you’ll be more motivated to train and prepare for it. With the uncertainty of the 2021 race season, you might need to get a little creative with the races you sign up for. If you’re worried that a currently scheduled race might get canceled, consider signing up for a virtual race. There are a lot of virtual races that have cool-looking medals or t-shirts for all participants. Pick a race that has some swag that you’ll like.
- Include a friend. If you’ve got any running friends, see if they’ll set a goal with you or sign up for a race with you. Even if you don’t get to run together, you can still inspire each other to keep training.
- Celebrate small accomplishments. Whether you’re working toward your first 5k or you’re looking to set a personal record for a marathon, celebrate the small things that get you there. You don’t achieve big goals without first achieving small goals. Reward yourself for the small goals too!
- Post your running goals where you can see them. By writing your goal and posting it where you can see it every day, you will help keep yourself focused on it. If the goal doesn’t seem real, you’re less likely to work on it. By writing it down and looking it at, it will feel more real.