Training tips: Goal setting for runners

The only way I can motivate myself to train regularly and to see progression in my running is through setting goals. They give me a reason to train and break down my overall aims into manageable, bite-sized chunks. When bad weather or social engagements might distract me from my training plan, these goals encourage me to push on through – braving the rain or running to or from an evening out. As I see it, there are five main benefits to setting goals:


  • Creating a sense of commitment – setting a goal makes you psychologically commit to trying to reach that target, making you more likely to succeed
  • Encouraging progression – if your training is stalling having an end goal will motivate you to keep moving forward
  • Building self-belief – breaking down your overall aim can make it feel much more manageable and achievable
  • Allowing you to re-evaluate – should you not reach your overall goal, having milestones in place will enable you to look back at where your training veered off course
  • Rewarding success – once an end-date and target are in place you can begin to build in rewards to your training schedule, again, motivating you to continue training


Before we look at the three different types of goals I’d recommend, it’s important to look at the five criteria necessary when setting goals. To do this you need to think SMART.
Specific: focus on one part of your training, for example, achieving a certain distance or speed

Measurable: ensure your goal is quantifiable. Set yourself a target of being able to run 10km, as opposed to just being able to run further than you can currently

Achievable: based on your fitness level and the time/effort you can commit, make a judgment on whether your goal is realistic

Relevant: ensure this goal fits with your longer-term aims and ambitions

Time-bound: set yourself a time limit to encourage you to keep pushing towards your goal when you’re lacking motivation


Many of you will already be using SMART goals in your career so it won’t be too big a leap to take these into your running. However, that’s not the only thing you need to think about when setting your goals. You should also consider layering your goals so that you have short and medium targets that feed in to your wider ambitions. For example:


Short-term goal

Specific: run three times a week, for the next six weeks

Measurable: frequency can be measured using a diary or app such as Strava

Achievable: consider this in relation to your other commitments and available time

Relevant: see medium and long-term goals below

Time-bound: 6 week deadline


Medium-term goal

Specific: run 10km in under 60 minutes, in 6 weeks time

Measurable: distance and speed can be measured using an app or GPS watch

Achievable: you can look at this in relation to how you perform in your first six weeks of training

Relevant: see medium and long-term goals below

Time-bound: 6 week deadline


Long-term goal

Specific: complete a half marathon in under 2 hours, in 6 months time

Measurable: distance and time can both be measured via a chip in a race environment, otherwise, you can use an app or GPS watch

Achievable: again, look at how successful you were in achieving your medium-term goal

Relevant: once achieved, this long-term goal will become a short or medium- term goal as you move on to your next ambition.

Time-bound: 6 month deadline


As a running coach I get involved in all levels of goal setting but it’s usually when people start considering their long-term goals that they come to me. What I usually find is that people have skipped the first two steps and have jumped straight on to the bigger ambition. However, without building towards this overall goal it is much more difficult to succeed. This is something I experienced myself in the recent RTTS. Whilst I had trained hard I failed to build shorter races in to my training schedule,  which impacted on my eventual performance and made the 100km more difficult. My advise for anyone wanting to increase their distance or achieve a PB is to think about what you need to do before you tackle that ultimate goal and to think SMART.


Training tips: Goal setting for runners

One thought on “Training tips: Goal setting for runners

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s