When I was going through the training to become a running coach, our instructor said that the primary goal of every runner is to get faster.
I could not disagree more.
A goal is your source of inspiration and is an intensely personal thing. What inspires me may seem utterly ridiculous to you, or vice versa. Maybe your source of inspiration seems ridiculous to even you, but if it keeps you moving forward, embrace it and work with it.
Time is an easily measurable metric, so it is the most common goal runners set. But it is far from the only source of inspiration, and it isn’t a force that will drive all runners to put in the work to achieve it.
A well-set goal will provide you drive and focus. It will keep pushing you forward and give you something to focus on when you are suffering from self-doubt or a lack of confidence.
I don’t think I’m alone when I say ‘getting faster’ does nothing to inspire me. The idea of potentially shaving 10 minutes off my marathon PR will not push me out of bed for a long run on a cold, rainy Saturday morning.
I have other goals for my running, staying in shape, developing muscle and lung strength. Increasing speed may very well come along with those things, but it would be a secondary benefit (at most).
Don’t get me wrong, I still pay attention to my finish times. If I do take 10 minutes off my best time, that’s great. But I can’t imagine it will ever be my ‘primary goal’ – as much as my instructor tried to convince me otherwise.
Work With What Works For You
If getting faster is something that inspires you, that is fantastic. Work with it. Use race calculators to figure out tough but realistic time goals and go forth and achieve your personal best.
But… if you (like me), aren’t driven primarily by time goals, that doesn’t take you out of the goal-setting game.
Time for a little self-reflection.
What excites you? When you close your eyes and imagine your perfect running future what do you see? A specific time? A specific race? A group of running friends that you love spending time with and that will celebrate your finish, regardless of time? Running a Disney Race with the perfect Belle running costume?
…Sorry, I got sidetracked there imagining the perfect Belle running costume…
Create goals that will move you towards that perfect running future, whatever that looks like to you.
Non-Time Based Running Goals
But there are also many non-time based running goals you can use. The key to their success is that you make them SMART goals. (specific, measurable, actionable, realistic, and time-based).
‘Get stronger’ isn’t a SMART goal, you have no way of knowing when you’ve reached your goal, it isn’t measurable. But ‘do a straight-leg plank for 60 seconds by the end of the month’ is SMART. By the end of the month (time), you will know if you have completed a specific action (specific, measurable & actionable). (Side note: always the contrarian, I think vague goals have a place too).
What does this look like for runners?
Some possible non-time based running goals:
- Completing negative splits on your race. A negative split is running the second half of a race faster than the first. This is a still a bit time based, but it measures strength and endurance more than speed
- Do 1 hour of strength training and 1 hour of yoga a week during race training
- Running 1 mile without stopping
- Complete a running streak – running every day for a month, a year or however long a time
- Running a given number of miles in a month or a year. This is the perfect time to sign up for the 2017 miles in 2017 challenge from Run the Edge.
- Specific weight loss
Running goals can also be not directly related to running. I am often inspired by the idea of not wasting money. If I register for a race, buy hotel and airfare, one of my main training goals will be for me to not let that money go to waste. I will not let my financial investment go to waste due to poor training.
It wouldn’t work for everyone, but if it works for you, use it.