Image source: Fitbit

How to set running goals that will help you not hinder you

Runners, by nature, are typically very driven individuals who thrive on schedules and planning. Goals often give them some sort of metric or benchmark to determine success, and therefore it’s understandable that they can sometimes get very zeroed-in on achieving specific targets. But by being so focused they may be doing themselves more harm than good.

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It goes without saying that goals can be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, they can be incredibly motivating and can help pull runners along during the peaks and valleys, the high points and low points, inherent to each training cycle. On the other hand, they can be detrimental, discouraging, or perhaps even dangerous to runners if they aren’t chosen carefully.

This article highlights some things that runners ought to consider as they create goals for their running pursuits that will help them, rather than hinder them.

Consider your reality

How to set goals for your running pursuits that will help you not hinder you
Image source: Fitbit

This is somewhat obvious but is worth repeating because again and again. Runners can sometimes become so hyper-focused on achieving their goals that they fail to consider their current life situation. Running doesn’t occur in a vacuum – that is to say, every aspect of life, such as career, family, and other special obligations and duties will affect runners’ abilities to achieve their aims.

As runners sit down to decide their goals, it’s important to consider their important non-running-life stresses that will surely affect their running and their willingness to commit to their training. For example, if you’ve recently become a new parent, have extensive upcoming or enormous job obligations, it might not be very feasible to try and set a monthly mileage record.

Measure properly

How to set goals for your running pursuits that will help you not hinder you
Image source: Garmin

Goals can be process or product-oriented, and both types have their own merits and demerits. As runners decide on their goals, it’s important to consider if chasing after a process versus product-oriented goal, or vice-versa, fits their current and near-term reality. One type of goal isn’t necessarily better than the other, but it’s important that it is measurable or quantifiable.

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Without some type of quantifiable feedback, it’ll be increasingly difficult for runners to know whether they are making progress. Someone might decide to “become a stronger runner,” for example, but without some sort of measurable aspect to this goal, it becomes more of a lofty ideal than something actionable. This is where fitness trackers and sports watches come in. Not only do they quantify your activity, but they also produce a log of your runs so you can keep an eye on trends over time.

Goal ideas beyond the PRs/PBs

How to set goals for your running pursuits that will help you not hinder you
Image source: Garmin

Perhaps the obvious goal for runners to set is to shoot for personal records (PRs) or personal bests (PBs). These types of goals are clear-cut and obviously quantifiable, but as any veteran runner will attest to, PR performances are fleeting.

If runners toe the line at every race they run with the expectation to PR, they will be sorely disappointed a vast majority of the time. That’s not to say that simply making the goal “to set a PR” is bad; it’s just that there are other ways to measure success and growth in running.

The following are some additional goals that runners could utilize and are ones that could help their performances over time:

  • training for a PR in a particular race time or distance, as explained above;
  • staying healthy and injury-free, measurable by frequency or presence of illness or running-related malady;
  • obtaining a specific number of hours of sleep each night, since sleep plays such a critical role in running and training;
  • shooting for better nutrition and more informed nutritional awareness, over and beyond weight loss or changing body
  • composition (though these, too, could be goals), such as eating more fruits, vegetables, and essential macronutrients on a daily basis;
  • more regularly incorporating strength workouts into training, and once strength work has become part of the routine, establishing mini-goals related to the amount of weight that you can push/pull/press or the weekly frequency of strength workouts;
  • setting percentage goals at each part in a training cycle, such as aiming to hit a certain percentage of workouts/mileage;
  • at the base level, simply running to have fun and running for the sheer joy of running. Sometimes going “back to basics” and running just to run can be extremely helpful in preventing burnout or injury which could, in turn, help runners achieve their long-term goals.

Setting goals that will be helpful to running can be a delicate task. Above all, it’s critical that runners listen to their bodies and allow this feedback to supersede any goal they might have (in an effort to remain healthy and injury-free because, let’s face it, runners can’t run when they’re injured)!

While it’s easy and tempting to just resort to “set a new PR” as a goal, realistically, PR performances are hard to come by, and there are plenty of other ways that runners can motivate themselves and push themselves to bigger heights, therefore becoming stronger, fitter, and faster versions of themselves in the process.

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Dan Chabert

Writing from Copenhagen, Denmark, Dan is an entrepreneur, husband and ultra marathon distance runner. He spends most of his time on, and and has been featured on runner blogs all over the world.

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