Goal Setting For Runners

We are a week into the new year and by now most of us have set goals for ourselves. Some of us have signed up for the gym, some have set weight-loss targets, and some of us have a list of races on our calendar. Goal setting for runners is important if we want to have a successful year with maximum output and minimal injuries.

What goals should runners set and how to stick with them:

When runners set goals, they should look at the big picture—and by that, I mean improving the entire body instead of just relying on running. By looking at what you need as a whole, you will be better able to obtain the big goals you set for yourself.

Runners go big. We don’t quit, and we tend to abuse our bodies with a myriad of things. We often eat more junk food than we should because “we earned it.” Some of us neglect strength training and downtime. By adding these items to our yearly goal planning, we will set ourselves up for a good solid year of running our best.

How do you plan for a year of running victory? Take baby steps toward a bigger goal. If you want to run your first marathon, make sure it is far enough in the future that you are able to get things in place and you aren’t building too fast. Are you accounting for breaks between training plans? Do you have time to rest and is your nutrition plan realistic?

Here is a list of some of the smaller goals runners can make to ensure they have a rock solid year this year:

Cross Training

So many of us neglect to work our other muscles. I’m guilty of this myself. I don’t like cross-training; I like running. I don’t want to get on the bike or do cardio workouts on the TV. I just want to run. But by neglecting the other muscles in our bodies, we are doing our running a great disservice.

Section off time in your schedule to do these other activities. Try to make it fun if you can. Talk your running group into swimming once a week, or playing basketball, or going on a bike ride. You will all benefit, and by doing cross training as a group you should be more committed.


Stretching is a big one that doesn’t take too much time or effort. Find some good stretches online to do before and after your run. And throw a yoga routine into the mix once or twice a week.

The jury is out on whether or not stretching has any impact on an athlete, but I believe it does. Why wouldn’t it? Do easy stretches on your trouble areas before or after your warmup. When your run is over, make sure you stretch deeper and again, focus on the trouble areas. Use your foam roller to really dig in. Stretching not only makes your muscles happy but can help you avoid future injuries.

Race Calendar

Races pop up during the year—this happens to me every year. But for the most part, and for the long distance races, you should have your schedule mapped out in December or January so you know when your training cycles will be, and when you will have downtime for your body. Always plan to have some time off from running. Your body needs it.

Training Plans

That leads us into training plans. Find one that works for you. There are so many of them out there, and you can become easily overwhelmed. Be realistic about your time commitments and what you can or cannot remove from your daily schedule.

It’s perfectly acceptable to alter any training plan to fit your needs. If you have more time to do your long runs on Wednesday instead of Sunday, feel free to move the entire week around.

You can find some half marathon training tips in my previous article Choosing A Half Marathon Training Plan.


Nutrition plays a huge roll in how we feel and how our bodies perform for us. You know the saying “garbage in, garbage out”? Well, make it your new nutrition mantra for this year and finally toss out the pizza and cheeseburgers. You didn’t earn them, you are lying to yourself.

Find a healthy eating routine that you can sustain for the rest of your life. If that’s Whole 30 or Keto, or NSNG, or a moderation diet, great—just make sure you are able to stick with it. You will see a huge improvement in your moods, your ability to handle stress, and your endurance.

That being said, I’m not telling you to never eat another cheeseburger—that’s not realistic. Just don’t make junk food your norm.


Goal setting can also include promising yourself you will drink more water. There are plenty of water drinking apps you can download to your phone. Fitbits let you record your water intake within their app. If you like to track your progress, this is a great method for you.

However, if tracking isn’t for you, just make sure you are drinking enough. You should never get to the point where you feel thirsty. Replace a cup of coffee or a soda with water. Add lemon or lime slices to make it taste sweeter. Or, you can use Nuun tablets if you need an extra electrolyte boost.


Finally, and maybe most importantly, don’t forget to rest. Burnout is a real thing and it can happen to anyone. If you are worried about missing a training day, but your body is really tired—take a break. Do a short restorative yoga routine. Take a nap, or do some meditation.

Missing one or two training runs will be more beneficial than running your body down and becoming sick or injured. Listen to what your body is telling you—and take it easy. It’s better to miss one or two days than it is to miss six weeks.

Why it’s important to stick with your goals:

Sticking with and accomplishing goals you have set for yourself is a great feeling. Putting something on your calendar and marking it off when it’s done gives you a huge boost of self esteem and accomplishment. What makes a person feel stronger than doing something really good for themselves?

The more things you set out to accomplish and then finish, the better you will feel about your abilities. Even small setbacks will seem less important. We all have hiccups. Don’t let it get you down, just reevaluate and adjust.

Tracking and keeping up with your goals:

Keeping track of your progress to your bigger goals will help immensely as you work toward finishing them. Especially if you are a data nerd.

There are a few ways to help you stay on track with your big goals. Don’t settle for just one; do everything you can to accomplish what you set out to do.

Accountability: Put your goals online. Tell your friends/family/coworkers what you are setting out to do. Every time they ask you how you are doing, you will want to be prepared to tell them that you are on track.

Tracking: There are so many ways to track your goals, it’s overwhelming. Here are a few ways I like to track:

·       Bullet journal

·       Excel spreadsheet: Gantt charts are amazing for people who want to see the small steps they need to take to get to their bigger goals

·       Calendar or planner

·       Fridge printout that you can check things off as you go

Family/Friend Goals: Do you have family or friends who are setting similar goals this year? Team up and hold each other accountable. This is by far my favorite method. You won’t want to let your friend down, and they will help motivate you when you are feeling overwhelmed.

Have you set goals for the year? Any huge plans on the horizon? I would love to hear what you have planned and how you will tackle it.

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About Liz Ward 101 Articles
Liz Ward is a running fanatic, avid reader, and amateur farmer. She lives on the Oregon Coast with her husband, three kids, and a small herd of animals.