How To Achieve Your running Goals

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If you want to know how to achieve your running goals, there are a few things you may want to consider. Most notably, athletes who routinely achieve their performance objectives, consistently use a process that offers a psychological advantage over those that don’t. Goal setting and visualization is a mental training technique that you can use to increase your commitment toward realizing those athletic achievements you want to attain.

Whether you’re an elite marathoner gifted with an enormous amount of physiological talent. Or, you’re a middle of the pack half-marathoner making the most of your genetic predisposition. The thin margins between success and failure will partially be determined by your goal-setting habits. For this reason, learning how to effectively set and then work toward your running goals will be a determinant of your success or failure.

Why set goals?

The idea behind goal setting is to harness the power of your subconscious so that it moves the conscious you in the direction you want it to go. Since it’s your subconscious which dictates what you succeed or fail at. It’s constantly raising or lowering the bar, telling you what you can or can’t do. If you understand this phenomenon then you’re better able to program the conscious you into achieving whatever it is you’re trying to accomplish.

How to achieve your running goals
Focused Female Athlete

But if you’re like most, you get your goals and wishes confused. You believe, that if you simply think something, then you have in some way set a goal. When in fact, you’ve done nothing more than think about something. And here lies the crux of the problem. Because your feelings and thoughts last only momentarily. After which they dissipate, leaving you wondering why you were so excited in the first place. This makes remaining motivated long enough to achieve your goals a priority.

Where should you start?

One of the most important aspects of goal setting is being able to visualize what it is that you want to achieve. Because your performance is often the result of what’s happening inside your head. Or, more specifically, the movies and soundtracks playing inside your head.

If you want to reach a goal, you must ‘see the reaching’ in your own mind before you actually arrive at your goal.” – Zig Ziglar

Maybe, you want to run a 3:05 marathon, or you’d like to finish your first 100k. Whatever it is that you’re aiming for, it’s important for you to visualize it in as much detail as possible. Olympic athletes and coaches have been using the power of visualization for decades to improve athletic performance. And you too can benefit from this powerful psychological tool. And one of the best instruments for doing this is the vision board.

Create a vision board?

Creating a vision board is an effective way of influencing your subconscious and harnessing your intentions. You can choose images that represent actions, words, or events, that represent what you want to achieve. Ultimately this helps to strengthen your resolve and decision-making, especially in times of low motivation. Your vision board can be made on a white board, cork board, or even on plain old cardboard.

Athlete vision board for achieving your goals
Athlete With Vision Board

Once completed, place yours in a conspicuous area where you’ll see it regularly. This will have the effect of imprinting in your psyche, exactly what it is you want to do. And never underestimate the power of the vision board. Because just when you begin to lose focus when things seem to get stale and you’ve lost your motivation. One extended look into your vision board can help to re-create excitement, and re-inspire you. It tells your subconscious, “this is what I’m working so hard for!” It will help you to persevere at that very moment when you want to quit.

Set S.M.A.R.T. goals

Example vision board
Vision Board

The next step to achieving your goals will be to write them out using the S.M.A.R.T. goal process. After all, if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there. S.M.A.R.T goals are the most effective and widely used goal-setting tool amongst sports organizations, teams, and athletes. The S.M.A.R.T. acronym gives criteria to guide you in the process, thereby ensuring your goals are clear and reachable. Ultimately, you’ll want to make your goals visible just like your vision board. You may even want to include them on your vision board. When considering your goals, it’s a good idea to use the S.M.A.R.T. format.


First, you’ll want to make sure your goals are specific, and the more specific the better. Specific goals paint a picture of the who, what, where, when, and why of what you’re doing. Conversely, vague or ambiguous goals create confusion and will be discounted by your subconscious. For example, “I want to run a faster race this year,” is not too specific. But, “I want to run a 3:05 marathon on January 20th’s race for the cure” is. Specificity helps your mind to make sense of, and organize the activities necessary for you to achieve your goals.


Next, you’ll want to ensure that your goals are measurable. It’s not easy to remain focused at all times. So by placing quantifiable benchmarks along the way, you’ll help to maintain the excitement necessary to stay on task. This makes a goal more tangible because it provides a way to measure your progress. If it’s going to take a few months or longer to complete, then set some milestones by considering specific tasks that need to be met. For example, if being able to run threshold splits for a certain duration is critical, then include that benchmark.


SMART Goal Sheet
Smart Goals Checklist

The next step will be to make sure that your goals are achievable. You should set stretch goals. Those difficult enough to challenge you, but realistic enough to achieve with effort. Once again, if you set unrealistic goals, your subconscious will dismiss them and fail to move you in the direction you want to go. As an example, if you have not yet run a half-marathon faster than 1:45, it’s unlikely to convince the inner you that you can run next month’s race at 1:32. Maybe you are capable of getting there, but it’s just that it may take you a season or two to do it.


Not only does your goal need to be achievable, but it also needs to be realistic given your current ability and future potential. Sometimes assessing your own capabilities objectively is challenging. You have to take into consideration things like the quality of your training, your level of commitment, and your opportunity to train. This is where a skilled running coach can help you gain perspective and develop a realistic training plan to get you there.


And finally, you’ll want to make sure every goal has a timeframe to completion. Open-ended goals give your subconscious license to procrastinate. If you don’t believe me try being vague and see what happens. I’m sure you can think of a time when your intentions to do something were real, but because you set no time frame you put it off indefinitely.

So when constructing your goals be sure to include specific finish by stamps on them. Because the difference between “run intervals this week” and “run 8 x 1:30 splits on the track on Tuesday 5/27” is in the built-in level of accountability. You’re less likely to flake out on something so definitive.

Review and re-evaluate regularly

In the end, you’ll want to be mindful of how you are progressing. Don’t be so inflexible that you set yourself up for failure. Changing goals along the way is perfectly reasonable. Furthermore, the success of your goal-setting program will be in part based on how well you adapt to the process of setting, then following through on the activities.

Goal setting isn’t a one-time activity, it’s a continuous process. Take stock of how hard or how easy you set your goals. Consider your current fitness level when setting new objectives. Remain flexible, and keep in mind that you’re human and not a robot. And as you gain confidence in your abilities, you’ll develop effective goal setting strategies that will enable you to reach things you never thought possible.

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Scott McAskill

Is the founder of realcoachscott, a performance online running coach. He's a certified running coach, certified personal trainer and certified fitness nutritionist who specializes in highly individualized online training to help runners of all ability levels improve performance. For more information visit:
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