Setting SMART Running Goals
Having coached amateur runners over the years – from beginners to seasoned folks – I’ve found that 99 percent have a goal. For some, it’s getting started running, for others its to achieve a certain distance, while many others just want to get faster. Over the years, I’ve had the pleasure of witnessing many people achieve their goals. And, I’ve seen many become very frustrated when they can’t reach a particular goal. As a coach, I believe anyone can achieve their running goals if they take a SMART approach to setting them. Here are some guidelines:
Simple: Keep the running goal simple. Focus the goal on one aspect of running. For example, choose to do your first half marathon, but don’t also plan to improve your speed at the 5K distance. Set yourself up for one success at a time – it will keep running more interesting since you’ll have a lifetime of new, simple goals to achieve.
Make a plan: Achieving running goals does not happen without a plan. Keep the timeline short – don’t make a running plan longer than three months. That doesn’t mean you should train for a marathon in three months, for example. If it takes longer than three months to achieve your goal, break it up into separate plans. It’s more accurate to predict and plan what your life and body will be like in shorter increments.
Abandon: Be prepared, up front, to abandon your goal. Sounds counter-productive, I know. But, there are so many variables that can get in the way of your goal, that you must admit to yourself up front that “stuff happens.” Don’t beat yourself up if the plan you made isn’t working; or worse yet, push through and ignore the obstacles and attempt the goal anyway.
Realistic: One of the biggest mistakes I see runners make when setting is goals is not being realistic. Most often, they are not realistic about the amount of time and energy it will take to achieve the goal. And, they are not realistic about who they are and their current fitness level. ANY running goal requires a consistent, progressively challenging plan. If your current life schedule does not allow for that, pick a less ambitious goal – for now. We were born with one body. We can mold that body with exercise, but the basic attributes (genetics) that we have will not change. Not even with really hard work. Setting short term goals for our bodies allows us to make incremental assessments of our progress, which is key in seeing true changes in our fitness.
Time: When it comes to running, time is our friend and our enemy. It takes many months and years of consistent running to achieve significant improvements in running performance. At the same time, many months and years of consistent running takes a toll on our body. That’s why we believe that running training, over time, must allow for periods of time without structure and progression. A conscience goal of not having a goal. Many runners are forced into this period because of injury. It’s simply our body’s way of forcing a break. Why not plan it in and save yourself the frustration? You’ll get so much more out of an active break, that includes a bit of running, than that of rehabilitation.