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Goal Setting

It’s the time of year when many are making goals and new year’s resolutions – some small, some lofty. However, it’s important as runners to know how to appropriately set goals that are SMART: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-Based, and also challenging.


Take some time to reflect on exactly what you’d like to achieve this year. Your goals don’t need to be race-specific or even distance-specific, but when setting your goals for this year, they should be something that speak to you and challenge you.

Some great examples of running-based goals include:

  • Completing your first half marathon, marathon, or other distance.
  • Starting a run streak.
  • Adding a dynamic warmup to each run.
  • Incorporating more strength training.
  • Running 5 days per week.
  • Running 2,023 miles in 2023.
  • Stretching and foam rolling after each run.
  • Running a race in all 50 states.

What you should avoid when setting goals is creating generic goals such as “becoming a better runner,” or “getting in shape.” Instead, define what each of those looks like to you, and create smaller goals that will help you become a better runner or increase fitness.


It’s important to take a look at your life and non-running demands when setting goals. For example, I’d love to train for an ultramarathon one day, but my current life situation doesn’t allow for it. Proper training requires two long runs per week and as a working parent of two kids in multiple activities, it’s often challenging enough to get my single long run scheduled during the week. This is a goal I will surely revisit later in life, but for now it’s just not for me.

Some things to consider when determining if a goal is attainable for you:

  • How much time you have to dedicate to training. Think beyond the runs themselves and be sure to allot time for warmups, cooldowns, stretching, cross training, and even eating/showering after your runs.
  • Busy seasons in your year. Consider busy times at work when training or adding in a race may add to your stress levels, as well as kids’ sports schedules, family vacations, etc. Plan any goal races accordingly outside of these seasons.
  • Is your goal something you can actually achieve with proper training? Some considerations include your past training history, past performance, and rate of progression in training.

Each race distance and running goal requires a different level of training and sacrifice. If you’re unsure if it will fit in your life, feel free to reach out to me and we can discuss how and if it can fit into your current situation.


Seeing progress is a one of the best motivators there is. Benchmarking at the beginning of your training block, along the way, and as you reach your goal is important to seeing improvements. Sometimes, especially with race-based goals, things beyond your control can thwart your plans, but knowing that you’ve made strides and improvements along the way can not only motivate you, but also validate your training even if your goal race doesn’t go as planned.

Be sure your goal is measurable. Measure your progress by keeping a running journal, marking your workouts on a calendar, or tracking them in Strava.

Frequently revisit your goals. I like to review my progress at the end of each week to see how close I came to my weekly goals and training plan, as well as analyze any setbacks I may have had and create a plan to overcome them in the upcoming week.


Are your goals relevant to the life you want to lead and currently lead? When setting goals, ask your self why you want to accomplish them. Does this goal align with your long-term life goals? This is especially important when adding races to your 2023 plans. Set your goal “A” races and make those priority, then select any additional races that will support that goal, rather than detract from it or deplete your energy stores before your main race.


Set a deadline for your goals. Race-day goals come packaged with an end-date, but other goals may not. Give yourself a deadline for your goals whether that’s running 50 states in 10 years, running 5 days per week for 1 year, or adding cross-training in twice weekly for 2 months. At the end of this time period, revisit your goals and reflect on the journey. Then, set new goals! Keep moving forward!


How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

It’s important to set both long-term (macro) goals and short-term (micro) goals. Macro goals can have 2-year, 5-year, or other long term deadlines, micro goals break these into smaller, more frequent, attainable goals that create steps toward achieving the macro goal. Within these micro training cycles, are even smaller goals that are incorporated into your training plan: speed work runs with goal paces, a set number of runs per week, etc. Goals can be broken down as far as you’d like. Even within a given workout, I’ll make small goals for myself to keep motivation high.

For every goal you set, I challenge you to find at least 1-2 micro goals that will help you achieve it.


While this could be a whole topic within itself, it’s important to plan your races with your main goal in mind. Start by identifying your top goal for the season/year and finding a race that supports that goal. For example, if you’re looking for a Boston Qualifying time, head over to Find My Marathon and read some race reviews, PR stats, and qualifying rates and select a race that fits your goals, budget, and timeframe. Looking to complete your first half marathon or 10K, a great resource is Running in the USA for finding both classic and atypical race distances. Trying to go farther than ever? Ultra Signup is a top resource for ultramarathoners and marathoners alike.

Typically, no more than one or two long-distance (marathon or longer) goal races should be planned per year – and only one per season. Because of the high strain your body takes on during these races, a recovery season between goal races is necessary. However, shorter distance races can be planned more frequently as strain is reduced. Often, half marathons and 10K races will be incorporated into a marathon training plan as a tune-up race or workout to help prepare for race day.

Your experience will play largely into the number of races you can take on in a year. The more experience, the more races you’ll be able to handle. Newer athletes should be more conservative.

Races can and should be prioritized based on your goals, especially when more than one race in a training block is scheduled.

  • A Race: your top goal event in which your training plan is based
  • B Race: a supporting, preparatory race designed to help you reach your A-Race goals
  • C Race: this may be a fun race done at an easy effort or tempo pace used as a training run or minor event along the path to your A race.


Working with a professional coach is a great way to define and prioritize your running goals for the year and help you achieve them. It’s important to select a coach that has experience in the races and/or goals you’re seeking and who is a good fit with you personally.

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