Set SMART Running Goals for Sticking to Your Habit

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Setting and reaching goals is an excellent way for runners to stay motivated. While you are in the process of reaching your goal you gain a sense of direction and progression. And when you finally reach your goal you gain a sense of accomplishment and pride.

Running goals can be competitive in nature, or they might be personal, or health-related. Many different types of goals can energize your running program. However, setting a SMART goal can make the process more valuable.

SMART Running Goals

When defining your running objectives, it helps to use the SMART method and set goals that are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timebound. The SMART goal-setting method is used by coaches, business leaders, educators, and others to help people define and reach performance targets.

Each component of a SMART plays an important role in your process


Your goal should be narrow in focus and avoid generalizations. A specific goal is defined by precise terms.

For example, you might want to run faster, but that is a broad and unspecific goal. A specific goal for improving your pace might be "I want to improve my PR in the marathon by two minutes." Or if your goal is to participate in a running race for the first time, you might identify and sign up for a specific 5K event in your area. Or if you hope to lose weight with running, you might set a specific goal to lose five pounds in two months by running 3–4 days per week.

A specific goal helps keep you motivated because you know exactly what you need to do to accomplish it. As you move closer to your goal, you get excited and motivated by your progress, so you'll work even harder to get to that end result.


To make your goal measurable, you need to define how you will track your progress and how you will know when you've reached your target.

For example, if your goal is to run a improve your marathon PR by two minutes, monitoring your pace during long runs is going to be the smartest way to measure your progress. You can use pace charts to set specific pace targets for each long run, making incremental speed increases each week. You'll know if you reached your target on marathon race day when you cross the finish line.

If your goal is weight loss, there are different ways you might measure your progress, but you should choose one method and use it consistently. For example, you might use a bodyweight scale, BMI measurement, or body fat percentage. Decide which measurement you will use, and how often you will measure your progress.

For example, you might choose to weigh yourself on a bodyweight scale once each week to see how you're doing. You know that you will have reached your goal when you reach your target weight.

When you define specific criteria for measurement, it allows you to check your progress periodically and make adjustments as needed. This helps the program seem more manageable so that you stay on track and maintain your motivation.


Let's face it, not everyone is going to qualify for the Boston Marathon or run a six-minute mile. So, while it's good to set lofty running goals, it's important to choose those that you will be able to accomplish if you're willing to put in the work.

The best goals require you to push yourself outside of your comfort zone but aren't so extreme that they are intimidating. If a goal is too far out of reach, you are far more likely to give up easily because deep down you know that it is not achievable.

To figure out if a running goal is attainable, see how it compares to your previous running achievements. Do you have to make considerable improvements—beyond your ability—to get to that level? If you're not sure, talk to a running coach or running friends to help give you a gut check.


Just because you're a runner doesn't mean you have to set a goal that's popular among other runners.

For example, many runners set a goal to complete a marathon. But if distance running is not interesting to you, then this goal is not relevant. Perhaps you enjoy mid-distance runs instead and you set a goal to run a 10K for a local charity that is important to you.

Some runners participate in the sport for health reasons. Decreased BMI, lower blood pressure, or a lower resting heart rate might be relevant goals for those runners.

Other runners enjoy running because of the social nature of the sport. A relevant goal for that runner might be to join and participate in a running group two days each week.

For a goal to be relevant, it should be something that you consider to be worthwhile and important, so you're willing and able to work towards it. It should be personal and meaningful in your life.


Time-bound goals are those that have a deadline. This means that you set and define a time frame for reaching your target.

For example, if you say, "I want to run a sub-2-hour half marathon", but you haven't chosen a specific race, then there's no sense of urgency for your goal. But if you choose a specific race and say you want to run a 1:59 half marathon on that specific date, then you can lay out a specific week-by-week program to reach that goal.

Having a deadline will keep you motivated and prevent you from getting bored or wanting to skip workouts. If you find that you're ready to achieve your running goal way ahead of schedule, then readjust your goal and keep challenging yourself.

How to Set Your Goal

To make your SMART goal-setting process more effective, spend some time considering each of the important factors listed above. It may take an hour or more for you to brainstorm ideas and narrow down your target.

You may find that journaling helps this process along. Writing out your ideas is also helpful as you move through the process of reaching your goal. You may want to review your notes about why your chosen goal is relevant, or the running accomplishments you considered to determine that your goal is attainable.

Once your goal is established, write it out and post it in a place where you see it on a regular basis. It will serve as a reminder of your commitment and it will prompt you to record measurements along the way.

Once you reach your goal, take notes about how you feel about your accomplishment. Then use that pride as inspiration to set a new goal.

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