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How to pick a good running goal

The right goal can keep you motivated and engaged with your training plan

Setting goals is a really great way to stay motivated and on track with your training, but they can actually have a negative impact on your progress if you don’t choose them wisely. Set a goal that’s too easy and you won’t see improvement, set a goal that’s too hard and you’ll lose your motivation. Check out these tips for choosing a running goal that’s appropriate for your experience and ability, so you can continue to get excited about running and continue to progress.

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New to running? Start short-term

It can be hard to know what an appropriate goal should be when you’ve just started, so don’t be afraid to start small and change your goal as you get better. In fact, this is the time during your running life when your goal will likely be changing the most frequently. This is also the time when you’re the most likely to give up your running routine, so choosing an appropriate goal that’s achievable in the short term is crucial. Try setting a new goal each week, for example, “this week I’m going to run for 20 minutes on Monday, Wednesday and Saturday.” Once you’ve accomplished that, you can adjust your goal the following week to “this week, I’m going to run for 25 minutes on Monday, Wednesday and Saturday.” Focusing on one week at a time prevents running from feeling overwhelming, and before you know it, several weeks or months will have gone by when you’ve been running consistently.

Have more than one goal

If you’re goal-setting for a longer period (for example, an entire year or for the fall racing season), having a good, better and best goal can take the pressure off just having one. The “good” goal should be something that is definitely in your reach. The “better” goal is the next step up from there, once you’ve achieved your first goal. The “best” goal is your best-case scenario, if-everything-goes-amazing goal. For example, if you’re training for your first marathon, your good goal may be to simply get to the finish line, your better goal may be to finish in under five hours, and your best goal may be to finish in under 4:30. Don’t be afraid to shoot for the moon with that third goal — it is, after all, your best-case scenario.

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Don’t be afraid to adapt

Things happen, and sometimes even the best-laid plans get ruined. It’s normal to be upset when something goes wrong (like an injury, a difficult life event, etc.). While it is disappointing to have to abandon your goals, they’ll likely still be there when the time is right, so for now, adapt them to your situation. For example, if you were training to qualify for the Boston Marathon but got injured partway through, make it your new goal to do everything your physiotherapist says, rehab your injury and come back stronger next time.

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Get a coach

It can be challenging to look at ourselves objectively to determine what’s an appropriate goal for us and what’s not. This is where a good coach can be really helpful. This person will be able to watch how you progress throughout your training and figure out goals that will challenge you, but that won’t be unachievable.