Updated: October 3rd, 2023
How to set realistic running goals

The summer is one heck of a good time to catch that running bug, wouldn’t you say? It’s the time of year that engrossed me in the sport – exploring the most beautiful of landscapes.

Sun on my face, soft breeze on my hair, and every flower in bloom, let alone the post-run stretch enjoyed in the wilderness, ice cold drink in hand. The days are longer – it’s safer to run at 7 p.m. or squeeze it in on the way to work now the sun rises before 5 a.m.

It’s a time we tend to get the body out in shorter shorts, dresses, and sleeveless tanks. It’s just a more pleasurable experience in the summer months, so I’m not surprised you’re looking to start it now.

Maybe you think the kids can get involved in the school holiday, have some activity-based holidays, or even sign up for a run abroad. You need to acclimatize to running in the heat – well, we’re here to help you set realistic goals to get you going without risking injury burnout and make sure it’s a summer love affair you remember – just you and your running shoes.

What is a goal?

Firstly, consider what a goal is. It’s a plan, something to commit to, usually under a set timeframe. It could be to lose 50lb by Christmas or to run your first 5k in 3 months, run your marathon PB this year.

Marathon runners.

And while those targets are well and good, a goal is a guideline, step-by-step. Arguably one of the most powerful tools to give a purpose to what you’re trying to do. It will get you up in the morning when you don’t want to. It will see you through right to the end.

To truly benefit and reach your goal, each step must be appropriately approached – full of detail. Otherwise, it won’t fill up your motivation cup when needed; it will fall apart.

It’s kind of like our ‘New Year’s resolutions.’… how often do they flop because your goal was off the cuff and you had no idea how to format baby steps to the ultimate goal? You’re not ‘planning the magic’ out of a sport you love. You’re just making little check-in points as you go.

When you find yourself smashing it, it will do wonders for your confidence and motivation. So enough chat, grab a pen and let’s do this together.

The three types of goals.

I bet you didn’t expect to see three different goal categories. I’m not making it up; this comes from Psychologists Dr Edwin Locke and Dr Gary Latham in 1960s research.

Okay, they looked at goals in the workplace but it is all applicable to your running training plan and whatever goal you’re going for. They concluded that the bigger the goal or aspiration, then the harder people would work.

However, it’s hard to muster that self-motivation, so it’s why we tend to fall short of the goals we set (like the New Year’s resolution). So, instead, we’re going to create a tight-knit goal plan with three approaches:

  1. Outcome goals – ultimately what you want to achieve. A PB, hitting the marathon distance, running your first 5k.
  2. Performance goals – this is what you need to do to accomplish your goal. The short-term goals, breadcrumbs, and check-ins to hit along the way.
    Don’t worry these are how you measure yourself and change the direction or goal etc. if needed. This is nothing to dread but could be to hit certain mile splits in a specific training session or a certain time in your set long run if your goal is to get a PB for example.
  3. Process goals – this is the ‘HOW’. Exactly how are you going to accomplish this goal? These are the ones who get you out of bed in the morning.
    An example of this is a set training plan, its set growths, target for distances, etc. They have specific workouts, gym sessions, etc. to see you along the way. They might not feel like goals but each session you cross off is another boost the confidence levels.

    I would consider a plan that can slot in around your work, family, and life commitments. For example for my long-run days is impossible to do on a Sunday with my work, so I push it to Tuesdays and move the plan around accordingly.

How to set meaningful goals

SMART Goal Setting: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound

SMART Goal Setting: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound

SMART goals are one I’m almost certain you’ve heard of before. It’s applicable in every aspect of our lives – running is no different. If you haven’t heard of it, then this is how SMART goal setting will get you to your goal.

  • S is for specific
    This is the idea. The who, what where, and why of your goal. This has to be crystal clear. For example “I want to his a marathon PB” When you say that out loud, how does it make you feel? Excited? Scared? Intimidated? If you’re not excited and feel thrilled to get going pick another goal!
  • M is for measurable
    For running this means the goal needs to be able to be measured, such as a running time or a distance. If we go back to the marathon PB, well what is it you wish to hit? Sub-4 hours? 3-hours 30-minute marathon dead on? How can you measure your goal? It can be to finish the marathon distance. Then that is a distance-measured goal and is A-OK!
  • A is for achievable
    Time to be realistic, is this goal achievable? Please do not pin your goals on outcomes you cannot control. I.e: first placed finish in your local Park Run isn’t something you can control.

    But, if you know the record at your local is 20 minutes, then you can have a goal to hit 19 19-minute 5k performance. Then think, is this something you can realistically achieve? Your goal should motivate you, and excite you not set you up to fail.

    A little bit of hard work didn’t hurt anyone but if your 5k time is 30 minutes, how realistically can you shave 11 minutes off your time?

  • R is for relevant
    This means setting a running goal that means something to you. Don’t do it cause your friend is, or you want to one-up them. Equally, if your goal is to run a 50-mile ultramarathon then training for a quicker mile-time is not going to help you out at all.
  • T is for time
    This is the time frame that you’re aiming to achieve this goal. This can be the time from race day to now. It could be to lose X weight by Christmas Day 2023. They are all fine. Don’t push it. Training for a marathon takes 3-6 months depending on your starting fitness. An ultra? 6-12 months.
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