Running Goals That Help You Improve as a Runner

Setting running goals that are functional can help you become a more confident and focused runner. Carefully picked targets for both the short and long term are your answers when you inevitably find yourself asking “Why am I doing this?

Setting a goal might seem simple. Pick a race and a distance, set a goal time, and start training. The secret, however, is that coming up with productive goals is not so much about the goals themselves. The real value is in the insight you gain from thinking about and deliberating on your goals.

The goals you formulate, then, function as shelves where you store this insight. And by revisiting your goals, you reacquaint yourself with these nuggets of self-awareness. Let’s look at some of the points you should consider when formulating your goals, to make sure they are productive and help you become a better runner.

Short Term vs Long Term Running Goals

An essential part of the goal-setting process is understanding the difference between short and long term goals. Both types serve a function and should be part of your plans. 

Articulating the difference between what matters over the coming years compared to the next few months helps you prioritise when faced with a decision in your training.

Long Term Goal

Your long term goal should be rooted in your primary reason for wanting to run. What inspired your decision to become a runner? It can be wanting to adopt a healthier lifestyle. Perhaps you run to socialise and make friends. Or maybe you do it for self-realisation; to see how fast you can become.

Regardless of what it is, this will be highly personal. You must go within yourself to discover your why. And once you have, you can use the insight to formulate your long term goal. Notice the singular form, because when it comes to the long term, one significant objective is enough.

Your long term goal is your north star when it comes to running. Whenever facing an important decision in your training, or relating to your short term goals, you should consider the effects on your long goal.

Spending more time in nature is among the more popular running goals
Spending more time out in nature is a popular long term goal for many people who start running.

It is also worth noting the importance of regularly reviewing your long term goal. With time you will grow, as a runner and as a human. As a result, your motivation and your reasons for doing what you do will change. Set aside time at least once per year to reflect on your long term running goal.

Short Term Goals

While your long term vision lives in the back of your mind, the short term equivalent is quite the opposite. These are the goals that you work towards every single day. The goals you share with your friends and put up on the ceiling above your bed so that you can see them first thing every morning.

Your short term running goals are typically seasonal, and often connected to particular races. You can have one or more, but usually runners tend to pick an “A goal” that they structure their training around. Additional goals tend to be supplemental and serve as yardsticks on the way towards the big season goal.

Mileage and training time are other parameters runners will use when constructing goals of this kind. In other words, you don’t have to tie them to a race or a time goal.

Constructing efficient short term goals relies on introspection. You must be intimately familiar with what it is you want to achieve with your running. If your targets are not rooted in this knowledge, they won’t have a lasting impact. Your long term goal is useful in this regard. Always make sure that your short term goals complement your vision for the future.

Make Your Running Goals SMART

With a background from business and management, setting goals and measuring progress has been a significant part of my education and work life. I apply these experiences to running as well, and use the SMART framework to evaluate my goals. This helpful acronym reminds us that goals should be:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Ambitious
  • Realistic
  • Time-specified

Remember that the purpose of a goal is to describe a particular accomplishment you want to achieve, and when. Ambiguous goals that cannot be measured are counterproductive because they do not provide concise feedback.

Running track
A time goal in a race is probably the most popular short term running goal.

Striking a balance between ambition and realism can be difficult. But, again, remember that the primary function of a goal is not to achieve it. It should, instead, be a tool to evaluate your progress. Whether you reach the goal or not is beside the point, as long as it informs your effort and helps you learn. As a result, I tend to err on the side of ambition when setting my own goals.

Progress in Running is Highly Individual

As a final note, I want to remind you that progress in running is highly individual. I do not doubt that many people reading this, particularly new runners, are looking for cookie-cutter running goals for beginners. It depends on many external factors beyond your control. Unfortunately, there is no one size fits all when it comes to progression in running capacity.

Your physical starting point, past athletic experience, genes and the circumstances of your life all play a role. Comparing yourself to what others do and have done is pointless, and a short cut to disappointment.

Embrace your constraints and difficulties and set your own goals that inspire you.


February 25, 2022


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