When you find the right groove, running is joyful. You’re comfortable in stride and feel like you can go forever. But as soon as your energy starts flagging, you may start wondering, “Why am I doing this?” If you don’t have a good answer, your run may turn into a walk, and that walk may turn into never getting out the door at all.
Keeping yourself motivated is a big part of your training—and it starts with setting goals for yourself. If you’re a new runner, the goal may be making it one block farther than your previous run, completing your first race, or finishing a marathon. If you’re a consistent runner, your goal may be to set a personal time record, introduce cross-training to your regimen, or qualify for the Boston Marathon. No matter what your goals are, here are four steps to successfully achieving them.
1. Find Your Motivation
Having a goal race can help you with daily motivation. Mārtiņš Zemlickis
When setting any goal, start with your “why.” Reasons for running are as personal as fingerprints. Your motive may be to stay fit, to lose weight, or to find camaraderie with other runners. Every reason is a good one. Here are a few questions to help you find inspiration.
• Why do you want to be a runner or why do you like running?
• What do you gain from participating in running?
• Is there anything you would like to accomplish in running that you haven’t already?
• How will you be different or will things be different if you accomplish this goal?
When the miles get long, or it seems like there’s no light at the end of the tunnel, this “why” will keep you going. Some runners write their “whys” on their hands or wear shoelace charms engraved with words or mantras to remind them of their motivation.
2. Get SMART
In his book Meb for Mortals, New York City Marathon and Boston Marathon winner Meb Keflezighi writes, “Your goals should require you to reach outside your comfort zone while remaining within the realm of possibility.” One way to do that is to set SMART goals, yes, just like your high school teacher taught you. The goals should be:
S – Specific
M – Measurable
A – Action Required
R – Realistic
T – Timely
Luckily for runners, specific goals (e.g., completing a race or setting a PR) are also immediately measurable. Setting realistic goals and time frames is more challenging. In this case, it may be useful to start with a long-term goal, like running a marathon and break it into smaller steps. For example, if you want to run a marathon in a year, what’s your goal for six months from now? What are your benchmarks for this month? This week?
Setting these short-term goals also will help you build confidence in completing your overall objective. If you ran two miles for this week’s long run, a three-mile run next week won’t look so difficult. Each training run you complete gets your body and your mind one step closer to achieving the long-term goal.
When you encounter obstacles—like an injury or illness—stay flexible with your goals. Missing a few runs doesn’t mean you’ve failed or won’t be able to achieve your chief aim. However, you may need to re-evaluate your goal. When obstacles come up, get back on track by going back to your “why” and SMART goal setting.
3. Write It Down
Once you have your goal, make it concrete. Dr. Gail Matthews, at Dominican University in California, led a study on goal-setting and found participants were 42 percent more likely to achieve their goals if they wrote them down.
A neurological function helps explain why this works: In the process of encoding, our brains decide what gets stored in our long-term memory and what gets discarded. Writing something down improves this process. In other words, we have a much higher chance of remembering goals if we record them.
Writing down your goal brings you closer to achieving it. And setting short-term goals helps you get out the door and onto the road, trail, or treadmill with purpose. Take the time to establish a training plan, which will enable you to not only set mileage or time goals but also mix in a variety of workouts over the course of the weeks ahead.
4. Tell a Friend
Sharing your goal makes it real—and makes you more likely to accomplish it. Dr. Matthews’ study found that more than 70 percent of participants who sent updates to a friend about their process reported they achieved their goal, compared to only 35 percent who kept their goals to themselves. Sharing your goal may help you gain clarity. Talking over your goal may help you sharpen it.
Of course, running with a partner or a group can help you achieve your goals. But even speaking your goal aloud can motivate you to take action and stay on track—even if no one is acting as your accountability coach.
What’s most important? Just keep running. Dean Karnazes, American ultramarathon runner and author of Ultramarathon Man: Confessions of an All-Night Runner, advises, “Run when you can, walk if you have to, crawl if you must; just never give up.”