5 Goal Setting Tips for New Runners

This post by Nancy Biber is the second in a series of blog posts for the Couch to 5K training program. Nancy is a personal trainer and Life Services Consultant for Trig.

“If you want to achieve a high goal, you’re going to have to take some chances.” — Alberto Salazar

For some of you, signing up for a 5K is taking a HUGE chance.  “What if I can’t do it? What if I get hurt? What if I finish in last place? What if, what if, what if??” Stepping outside your comfort zone can be very intimidating, but it’s a lot less scary when you have a plan.

The first step to creating an effective plan is determining your goals. In this post, I’ll discuss the kinds of goals you should be setting for yourself as a new runner based on the principle of SMART goals, or goals that are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely.

1. Be specific.

Your goal should be specific enough to be both challenging and motivating. Make sure it clarifies who, what, when and how much – and don’t be afraid to throw in some numbers! Simply saying that you want to “run faster” or “lose weight” doesn’t really give you anything to shoot for. An example of a specific goal would be: “I want to improve my best 5K time by 2 minutes in 2 months,” or “I want to be able to run for 10 minutes straight without stopping by the end of this month.” A specific goal helps keep you motivated because you know exactly what you want to accomplish, and it allows you to design a more effective plan of attack.

2.  Make your goal measurable.

When choosing a running goal, make sure you also set criteria for measuring your progress. Making your running goals measurable will help you stay on track, maintain your motivation and know when you’ve reached your target. Again, having specific numbers in mind can help you track your progress. To figure out if your goals are measurable, ask yourself questions such as, how many miles/minutes do I want to be able to run by this date?

3.  Keep it attainable.

Let’s face it, not everyone is going to qualify for the Boston Marathon or be able to run a 6:00 mile. So, while it’s great to set lofty running goals, it’s more important (and more rational) to choose ones that you know you can accomplish – as long as you put in the work. The best goals will require you to push yourself to achieve them but aren’t so extreme that they set you up for failure. If a goal is too far out of reach, you probably won’t truly commit to it because, deep down, you know it’s not going to happen.

To figure out if a goal is attainable, compare it to your previous running achievements. Do you have to make considerable improvements beyond your current ability to get to that level? If you’re not sure or if you have no points of comparison, start by thinking small (you can always add on!) and feel free to ask us for suggestions.

4.  Make your goal relevant.

Just because you’re a runner now (yes, I said it) doesn’t mean you have to set your sights on a marathon. Pick a goal that you consider to be worthwhile so that you’re willing and able to work towards it. If you do want to run a marathon someday, more power to you! But if you just want to stay in shape and have fun, there is nothing wrong with sticking to 5K’s. Do what works for YOU, and don’t let others decide what that is.

5.  Keep your goals timely.

Make sure you attach deadlines to your goals. Having a deadline will hold you accountable and prevent you from getting bored or wanting to skip workouts. If you find that you’re close to achieving your running goal way ahead of schedule, then readjust your goal and keep going!

It’s also a smart idea to have short-term goals in addition to a long-term goal. For example, if your long-term goal is to be able to run a 5K in 35 minutes (or whatever time you’re shooting for) by the Twin Cities Lung Run in August, a good short-term goal would be to complete all your training runs this week – even if you have to walk more than you would like – or to run 10 minutes straight by the end of next week.

You should also set goals before each training run based on your progress and how you feel. If you’re exhausted, for example, just focus on finishing and staying positive. But if you feel up to it and your training is going strong, try challenging yourself by increasing your speed or the time of your running intervals. Give yourself a reason to feel accomplished every day and every week, and you will really start to enjoy training!

Key Takeaway: If you set SMART long-term and short-term goals, you’re more likely to stay on track with your training and you’ll start to see some amazing results. Also, don’t forget to reward yourself for every goal you meet. You deserve it!

Now tell us – what are YOUR running goals?

— Nancy

Photo Credit: Dorian Roeck

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