how to set smart running goals

Runners love growth. The sensation of knowing that today you will run further than you did yesterday. The euphoria that comes after running a personal best and the anticipation of running an unknown route can propel us to reach new levels.

We never become masters of our trade, but we always have the option of getting better. Runners—rookies and veterans—grow when they set goals. And now is the time to set goals for the upcoming season.

Using the S.M.A.R.T. goal setting system will help you reach your goals.


Alyse Luedke, from Sammamish, Wash., started running by setting a goal: to be able to run a 5K with her nine-year old son. She met the goal and says, “I’ve set out on every run since with a specific distance-based goal in mind.”

Luedke likes setting specific goals because she thinks it is too easy to re-negotiate when a goal is not specific. For example, if she sets out for a run with a range goal, say 5 or 6 miles, it is too easy to go with the lower number.

Try it: Set the goal to run a specific distance, perhaps a personal record run or a distance longer than you have ever run before.

If you make your running goals measureable it will be clear when the goal is accomplished. It is great to say, “I will run more,” or, “I will run faster.” To truly get the bliss that comes with accomplishing a goal you need to set goals that are measureable.

Jess Mullen is no stranger to setting goals and reaching them. She has completed the Badwater 135-mile ultramarathon, has run the 116-mile Pacific Rim One Day Run, and completed over 120 marathons and ultras.

When it comes to measureable goals, Mullen says, “How else can you judge/evaluate your progress or attainment of that goal? This helps keep it objective versus subjective.”

Try it: Increase your weekly average mileage by 15 percent from last year. Or, take 5 minutes off your marathon personal record.

“If there isn’t some chance that I can meet my goal, then trying to get there is pointless,” says Luedke.

Luedke is married to a mountain runner who runs ultras. Although she admires and respects his achievements, they didn’t inspire her because they felt so out of her reach. She has had to define what running is to her because in her household it is all relative.

Michael Linscott took first place in the Washington Ultra Series in 2013. He sets three types of goals for his racing. First, he has a pie-in-the-sky goal. It is an attainable goal, but circumstances need to be perfect: weather, fueling, well-rested.

His secondary race day goal is a closer-to-reality goal. This goal is along the lines of the best he can do for the day. Lastly, he sets a base goal. A base goal, could be just finishing the race, or having a good time.

The lesson is that we should set goals that are built for us, goals that we can attain.

Try it: Set a goal with three levels. For example, place in the top 10 of a local race, beat your time from last year, or finish the race.

Why is your goal important to you?

It is critical to keep your goals alive by setting goals that will keep that fire inside you burning. When you first set your goal, it is a spark. Turn that spark into a fire by choosing goals that are relevant to you.

Most runners would agree with Luedke, who says, “I generally won’t attempt to do something challenging—especially physically challenging—if it’s not personally meaningful and relevant to me.”

Whatever your goal is, make it matter to you.

Try it: Decide what you really want. Do you want to have a leaner body, run faster or longer, or run something epic?

Deadlines, nobody likes them, but they exist for a reason. A fixed deadline for your running goal will motivate you and add a sense of urgency to your focus. A great way to set a timely goal is signing up for a race.

This will help you focus your energy and help you prioritize your running to meet this timeline.

Runner Jess Mullen suggests, “If it’s too far out, it is easy to lose interest. It’s okay to have long-term goals but I like to break that up into smaller short-term goals because it’s more motivating.”

Set some S.M.A.R.T goals today. It is good to set goals throughout the running season and keep growing as a runner and athlete.

Keep in mind Linscott’s advice, “There is a balance in goal-setting. Sometimes setting and aiming for a goal is all there is, and sometimes just running and enjoying your ability to train and run and race should be a goal.”