The power of goal setting for runners

For most of us, running is about so much more than exercise. It’s a journey of self-discovery, growth and accomplishment, of pushing ourselves to do things we never thought we could.

But when the initial buzz of a new achievement wears off, it can be hard to find the motivation to keep lacing up your trainers and getting out there. Which is why goal setting can be such a powerful tool to keep you showing up, run after run.


How does it work?

Here comes the science bit…

Setting a goal moves you away from running being simply a physical act and taps into the power of your mind.

By setting goals you create a psychological shift, triggering a sense of purpose and direction that keeps you motivated.

It can also help you tap into the power of visualisation and positive thinking. When you imagine yourself achieving your goals, you activate the brain’s reward system, triggering the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and motivation. This not only boosts your mood but also reinforces the neural pathways associated with the desired behaviour, making it more likely to occur.


Start by finding your ‘why’

Goals provide direction, purpose and motivation, regardless of your fitness level. But to make sure yours are really working for you, you need to take some time to reflect on why you run.

Is it to improve your fitness, challenge yourself, lose weight, or maybe it’s simply to feel the achievement of completing a race? Understanding your underlying motivations will help you establish meaningful goals that align with your passions and aspirations.


Be specific

You’ve possibly heard about SMART goals in a work context, but have you ever considered applying them to your running?

Making your goals specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound, helps define your focus.


Take a look at these examples:

· Specific: Define your goals clearly and concisely. Change “I want to get faster,” to “I want to improve my 5k time by 1 minute.”

· Measurable: Establish metrics to track your progress. Whether it’s distance, pace, or race times, measurable goals allow you to monitor your improvements and celebrate milestones along the way.

· Achievable: While it’s important to challenge yourself, make sure your goals are attainable. Setting unrealistic targets can lead to frustration and burnout. Gradual progress is the key.

· Relevant: Your goals should be relevant to your personal aspirations, strengths, and interests. Consider your current fitness level and the areas you wish to improve. Whether it’s endurance, speed or consistency, tailor your goals to your individual needs.

· Time-bound: Setting a deadline or timeframe for achieving your goals adds a sense of urgency and accountability. For example: “I want to complete a half-marathon within six months.”


Break them down

Big goals can feel overwhelming, but breaking them down into smaller, manageable steps can make them more attainable.

Set smaller, short-term goals that lead to your larger objective. For instance, if your long-term goal is to complete a marathon, your short-term goals could include increasing your weekly mileage, improving your pace, and participating in shorter races.


Celebrate milestones

Acknowledge and celebrate your achievements along the way. Completing a 10k race, running a personal best, or reaching a new distance are all milestones worth celebrating. Rewarding yourself for your hard work will maintain motivation and keep you on track.


Be accountable

Sharing your goals with others, such as friends, family, or fellow runners, creates a sense of accountability. Their support and encouragement will help you stay committed even when challenges arise.

Why not post your goals on the Virtual Runner Facebook group and be cheered along by a community of supportive running pals?


Be flexible

Life is full of surprises, and circumstances may change along your running journey. Being flexible and willing to adapt your goals when necessary is crucial.

Regularly evaluate your progress and reassess your goals. If necessary, adjust them based on your current capabilities, changing priorities or unforeseen circumstances. Remember, adapting your goals does not mean giving up; it means finding the best path forward.

Setbacks and challenges are a natural part of working towards any goal. Instead of becoming discouraged, view them as opportunities for growth and learning. Embrace setbacks as valuable lessons that will make you stronger and more resilient.