How to Plan Goals That Set You Up For Success and Happiness

Training Tips

You with the “BIG GOAL” you want to accomplish.

You with the “I really wanna make this year count” goal.

You with the “This HAS to be the year I do XYZ” goal.

You with the “I train so hard, this had better be the year it pays off” goal.

And that doesn’t even include the people who aren’t really even sure of what their goal for the future is. There are plenty of you too.

Basically, anyone who would like to achieve something with their running, should be following the guidelines I recommend in this post. The title is the way it is for a reason.

This may sound harsh, but most goals people set are setting them up for failure, putting them in a place where the fun is sucked out of running because the “should”, “must”, and “have to” mindsets sink in.

It is one thing to be determined, to have something BIG in mind you want to do, there is NOTHING wrong with that, in fact, I am ENCOURAGING you to pick a goal like that. After all, setting a goal of representing Great Britain in a world championship is a pretty lofty goal, but I did it. The problem comes when you put a time limit on it.

That is when things start to go wrong, and that is when you are more likely to NOT accomplish it, than to accomplish it.

How does that make any sense, you ask?

Surely you WANT to set a goal with a time limit, you know, S.M.A.R.T goals and all?

We were all taught that in school.

Let me guess, these are some thoughts that justify your reason:

Having a date to complete it helps me to visualize, helps me to focus on those days I am struggling, helps me to motivate myself on the days I just don’t want to. If I didn’t set myself a date to complete it, then I will procrastinate, and besides, I only get SO many opportunities to race, I cant’t afford to waste one by thinking that way.

I know I know, you hate me right now for contradicting everything you learned in the rest of your life about setting goals.

BUT, my friends, when it comes to running goals, this just does not help you.

So what should you be doing instead?

Well, you should take some time to sit down and think about what you REALLY want, your big scary, lifelong accomplishment goal. Something that seems like it is almost impossible right now, but you COULD see it happening. It is realistic.

For example, representing Great Britain in a World Championship was a good one for me. When I set that, I was probably 15 years old. I had just finished 40th in England at the English Cross Country Championships. 40th was absolutely NOWHERE in the ballpark of running for my country, but it wasn’t a gap so big that I couldn’t climb there with lots of hard work and patience. That goal took me till I was 28 years old. That is a good example.

A bad example would be me saying that I want to win an Olympic Gold Medal. Sure, going from one of the top runners in Great Britain to one of the top runners in the world shouldn’t be that much of a step up, right?

No, that is just not realistic for me. I can be a good runner for my country, I can move up in world rankings, but I realistically do not have the talent to run a sub 2:20 marathon.

I want you to pick a goal that scares you. Pick something that feels right in your gut, something that is enough of a carrot to get you out of bed on those cold winter mornings, something that will keep you doing “the little things” like stretching and rolling even though you would much rather come in from a run and slump onto the couch. Your goal must be something that would bring a tear to your eye as you cross the finish line, THAT is how big you want it. Something you would say, “oh my god I can’t believe I actually did it”.

That is your goal.

But heres the thing. That is your LONG TERM goal. You must NEVER put a time limit on it. Once you do that, you are just putting a pressure on yourself that will not only make it LESS likely that you will achieve it, but you are also removing the joy from it, making it about the outcome, not the journey to get there.

Think about a vacation you are REALLY excited about, the buildup is part of the fun (the training), the vacation is definitely the fun (the race), and yes, reflecting through the photos afterwards (hitting that goal) is fun too, but you just skipped over the best part if you just counted down till you could get your photos printed or share your vacation on social media.

You just wasted the best part of the trip (the ACTUAL BEING THERE!!).

Your goal may have to modify slightly over time, which is where those of you thinking, “well, I only have till X to accomplish this or I never will”. Once again, you are making this an ultimatum, and we all know how ultimatums make us feel, not good!

Let’s say your goal os to qualify for Boston, and you think if you don’t accomplish it by age 40, you are just going to get slower and slower, so it will never happen…well your age group time also lessens a little, so maybe you have MORE chance, especially if you are training smarter…which you should be if it is a goal that means enough to you.

Or maybe you are in a situation like me, let’s assume I had not accomplished my goal of running for Great Britain OR even better, I actually never managed a 2:30 marathon, that is still one of my goals.

Well, I could easily have thought to myself, I HAVE to do it before I have kids or it will be too late.  What if I can’t get back to my fastest? I am never going to do it after kids when I am 35 years old.

Who says so?

I will be stronger and tougher after learning to juggle a family and training, which is only going to help, in addition to the break my body needed after 14 years of straight training. Looking at those what if’s once again makes us feel bad about ourselves, making us again, less likely to actually do what we want to do.

And if I hadn’t already got my GB jersey to run for them, well, maybe I would have done it in the masters age groups, still counts, right?

There are so many people out there who are proving that age does not matter as much as we once thought, it is possible to run faster than ever as a masters athlete, especially with the right training, so who says you can’t go get something bigger than you ever imagined.

Obviously goals are specific to you, and the factor of “reasonable” comes into this, for a 25 minute 45 year old 5k runner, a 14 minute 5k might not be realistic, but only you will know in your gut where that line goes.

You MUST be able to visualize yourself actually achieving it, it can’t be so out there that you can’t even entertain the idea or actually see it coming true, as you will never have that belief to get there.

So, my friends, as you move into this new year. Start to think about your lofty goal. What would you like to accomplish in your running life?

Write it down, put it somewhere you will see often, and then just put it aside, do your training the best you can and try to enjoy the journey along the way.

Some days it will feel like that goal is NEVER going to happen, but you have to trust, have to believe, and have to be patient. As I said, my goal to 13 years to accomplish, and sometimes during those years I did doubt that it ever would, but I had that tiny little candle in my heart that believed, and you need that too.

It may happen before you think, and if you are training by effort rather than paces, you will find it liberating because you aren’t freaking out about not hitting a pace, instead you are letting your body tell you where it is at, and letting the result take care of itself.

Slowly and surely you will chip away at that goal, and you will get there, when the time is right for your body, and it will feel better than you ever imagined, because you ran to your POTENTIAL, not some random pressure you put on yourself, you ran your BEST, and THAT is what you will be the most proud of.

And it will, our bodies are amazing, if we could only let them do their thing.

Goal Setting Guide for Runners

Not sure how to set realistic goals for you?

This worksheet will help you find out

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1 Comment.

  • I’ve come to realize that any goal rarely has an end journey because you need to maintain it. So you gotta enjoy every single step. Thanks so much for reminding me of this, Tina.

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