Many of us use goals to motivate us to constantly improve ourselves, and runners are no different. With so many easily recorded measures of speed and endurance, runners have any number of ways to verify the attainment of old goals and determine new ones. But how do you know when your running goal is realistic – that is, challenging, but attainable? Consider the following:
Are you a brand new runner looking to set a time goal for your first race? If so, focus more on goals of completion until you have a better idea about your running ability. For example, set a goal to complete the race and feel strong at the end. Runners who are more experienced can use previous race times to get an idea of a goal pacer. For example, if your current marathon time is 4:10 and you trained consistently, it is probably realistic to set a goal to break 4 hours in your next race if you complete an entire training cycle. It is probably not realistic to break 3 hours.
How realistic a goal is has a lot to do with the timeline in which you plan to achieve it. It can be challenging to set goals far in the future when it comes to running because abilities, plans, and priorities change. To set the most realistic goal possible, it is recommended to set a goal that can be obtained within one training cycle, such as taking 15 seconds per mile off your 5k time, 10 minutes off your marathon time, or completing your first marathon injury free.
Dedication and Availability
How committed are you to reaching your goal? Have you successfully been able to prioritize your training in the past, or do you find that life often gets in the way of your workouts? There is no right or wrong answer here, but it’s important to evaluate how much time you have to training and how likely you are to stay committed during this particular period of time in your life. If you’re planning a cross country move, working tons of overtime, or wrangling a nocturnal infant, it may not be the best time to pursue a Boston Qualifier.
How have you fared in events of a similar distance? If you are seeking a new distance PR as your goal (such as training for your first marathon or half marathon), consider what has worked well for you during previous training periods. If you get injured when running more than 30 miles per week, targeting a 50 mile race is probably not realistic.
Results of Others
You can learn a lot about a course or event based on how others have performed. Check results in your age group to discover whether a course is “fast” or “slow,” and consider looking up weather conditions as well. You’re more likely to run a PR on a cold day than a warm one!