Goal setting in running

I have had many goals across my running career so far, first it was to run a 5k, then it was to run a 10k, then a half marathon and currently to run a marathon. The ironic thing is, when I achieved these goals I didn’t run them without stopping. That goal has been achieved further down the line! Setting goals has meant that I have been motivated to work towards something, knowing the feeling of the cold metal hitting my chest from the medal makes me keep setting more and more goals.

Larsen & Engell (2013) agree that goal setting is a popular psychological strategy which enhances performance for all levels (beginner to athlete). Goal setting was put forward as a theory of motivation by Locke (1991), suggesting that goal setting is linked to task performance – specific and challenging goals with appropriate feedback contribute to higher and better task performance.

After you have set your goals, the use of action plans strengthens people’s goals (Bruijn & Rhodes, 2002). So, in short, if you plan your life around your goals you are more likely to succeed. I do this, I have a spreadsheet of when I need to run and then I plan my social life around it – that might be a bit OTT for you but putting runs in your diary can help, also attending local events such as parkrun – having a routine every Saturday morning can help kick-start your weekend!

So, how do I set a goal? Use the following formula:

Be SMART in your goal setting! 

Specific – what is it that you would like to achieve? A couch to 5k, 10k or half marathon? Make your goal clear in your mind so you have something to reach towards.

Measurable – so you’ve decided on a distance, when is it going to be? Sign up for that race / parkrun, put a date in your mind to know when you need to be ready! Races are great for achieving goals especially because you get a medal at the end that you can show off to all your friends – at the pub afterwards of course.

Achievable –  think – can I do it? If you have had knee problems, a shorter distance would be better. If you are feeling young and fit, maybe a 10k is more appropriate. What sounds like too much? Don’t do that distance!

Realistic – we aren’t all full of free time, we have responsibilities, mouths to feed, places to go, people to see. So don’t make a goal that isn’t achievable for your spare time. It is the most demoralising and demotivating thing when you have to push too hard or cut things out of your life for exercise. Do what you feel will fit in your lift currently.

Also make sure you discuss this with your family or significant other – remember, this can impact them too!

Time – lets be honest, a 10k race that is 4 months away is achievable for a beginner but 2 weeks? No way, give yourself time to be able to cross that finish line with a smile not being scoped up by an ambulance crew.

Please do remember, that as excited we are when we set these goals. Life does get in the way, family disasters, injuries and pure exhaustion. If you don’t manage to complete one goal, it doesn’t matter, it gives motivation to try again when life has a little more clarity. There is no shame in not reaching a goal, although some people do prefer not to tell other’s their goal for this reason. It’s up to you, but remember if you don’t manage to reach your exercise goal it doesn’t affect anybody else, you aren’t letting anybody else down, you tried and that is the most important thing!

Which leads me onto today’s run:



I had to do 10 miles today at marathon pace, so I decided to try a new route around Battersea. Turns out Battersea is basically a big building site with massive trucks blocking my path, even so I enjoyed it. I only got lost once and it was nice to pay a visit to the thames!

My pacing went well (I think) I managed the whole run with an average pace of 10:32 minutes per mile, but I was bored for much of it. At the end I felt that I would be able to continue at that pace for quite some time. For that reason it is most likely my magic pace that will get me through 26.2 miles, plus that would make a 4 hour 35 minute marathon which is a very respectable time.

I am definitely feeling tired though. This week totals 39 miles and finishes with a 17 mile run on saturday before a week of ‘deloading’ (half the mileage to give my muscles a chance to recover) before three weeks of even further distances! I’m definitely looking forward to a break next week.


Bruijn, G-J., Rhodes, R.E., & Osch, L.V. (2012). Does action planning moderate the intention-habit interaction in the exercise domain? A three-way interaction analysis investigation. Journal of Behavioural Medicine, 35 (5): 509-519

Larsen, CH & Engell, C 2013, ‘The art of goal setting: A tale of doing sport psychology in professional football’ Sport Science Review, vol XXII, no. 1-2, pp. 49-76.

Locke, E. A. (1991b). The motivation sequence, the motivation hub and
the motivation core. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision
Processes, 50, 288–299


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