How to set smarter running goals

As the fall racing season comes to a close, it’s time to start thinking about setting running goals for the new year. Of course, setting goals is easy — but setting effective goals that keep you on track is harder. Use these guidelines to set smart, realistic, and challenging running goals for the coming year.


Look back first
Whether you hit your goals or found yourself struggling in the past year, it’s helpful to look back. What went well? What can you improve on? Emphasize the things that worked for you, and plan steps to minimize the negatives. It’s important to be honest with this process. Take time to think critically and make adjustments before the training for your next goal begins.


Narrow your focus
As much as you might want to PR at three marathons in the spring, two in the fall, a half dozen half-marathons throughout the year, and a 5k or 10k each month, it’s important to identify the races that are most important to you.


If you’re running 5k/10k races, pick two to three to focus on during the season. If you’re training for marathons and half-marathons, pick one of each to train for. If you’re tackling a new distance, plan on one goal race with a couple shorter races as preparation.


Set gold, silver, and bronze goals
When you’re setting goals, it’s a time to imagine the best-case scenario and dream big. But it’s also important that you have a plan of what you’re going to do if things don’t go perfectly. Putting together three tiers of goals (gold, silver, and bronze) keeps you focused even as you face setbacks along the way.


To develop your three tiers, start with the silver goal. This is a goal that you think is reasonable based on previous performances, training background, and the amount of time you’ll be able to devote to training.


Next, think about your bronze goal. This goal needs to be something that you are at least 90% positive you can hit, even if you have setbacks in your training. It’s important that your bronze goal is something you are still excited to accomplish to keep you motivated if your silver goal falls out of reach.


Finally, think about your gold goal. This is the “perfect-case scenario” goal. Keep this goal in mind and you’ll be ready to take advantage of that perfect scenario when it comes along — knowing that it won’t come along often!


Once you have your goals in place, remember they aren’t set in stone. Each time you need to make adjustments, follow these guidelines and you’ll keep your running on track, even if the destination changes.


Carl Leivers is a USATF Level II Endurance coach who offers personalized training plans, group speed workouts, and running form analysis for runners of all abilities. A version of this article appeared in the December 2014 issue of Wingfoot Magazine.