Last fall I had the privilege of working with some high school cross country kids as they worked their way through the season. I joined them just after their season had begun and it soon became clear that some of the runners had not built up the necessary miles, during their summer training, to allow them to compete at a high level.

Once the season was over, the coaching staff and I sat down and came up with a goal of getting the more experienced varsity runners up to a specific mileage per week by the time the next cross-country season began. How did we do it? We worked backwards, considered all the relevant factors that could affect summer training (jobs, internships, family trips, etc.) and came up with a 10-week plan. In the process we tried to be realistic about how many miles they would start with, how often they could run during the summer, and how we would progress these miles so that they would be ready when the season began.

Setting realistic running goals is an important step in the process of S.M.A.R.T. goal-setting. This is a process used very often in business operations and can also be applied to any situation that involves goal-setting. Your running goals should be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-bound. In order to simplify the process while still adhering to these guidelines, there are three things you should always ask yourself:

1. Where have you been?

How has your running been lately? How many miles have you been running and how consistent have you been? Are you recovering from an injury and if so, have you given yourself enough time to fully recover? When was the last time you ran a race and how well did you do?

"Running speed and fitness develops over time so you should always take a longer-term approach."

Knowing where you have been with your running allows you to put things into perspective. If you ran a 5K in March but haven’t run consistently since then, or put in the necessary speed work, you may not be ready to set that next personal best this fall. It may be better to throw all of your expectations out the window and use your next 5K as a benchmark. Then you can set a more realistic goal WHILE you train smart and avoid injury.

2.     Where would you like to go?

What would you like to accomplish? What do you want to race next and when? Does it make sense given what distances you have raced in the past and the times you have put up?

If you have only raced 5Ks before, it may not be time to run a marathon. Instead, look to test yourself in the 10K distance and then plan a future half marathon to see how your body responds to that distance. It will tell you a lot about how well you can handle running a full marathon.

If your 5K PB is 22:00 and you want to break 20:00 it might take more than one season of running to do so, as bad as you want to break that 20-minute barrier! Running speed and fitness develops over time so you should always take a longer-term approach. Set smaller goals first, for example dropping your time by 30 seconds this year and then go from there. These smaller goals will be easier to achieve while working toward the bigger goal of breaking 20:00.

3.     How will you get there?

"The best way to become a better runner is to run more, plain and simple."

This is the most important question! How much time do you have before your next race? How often can you train? What mileage (or mileage range) do you need in order to achieve your goal? Can you realistically get to this mileage before your next race? 

Some more experienced runners will even decide to run twice a day in order to achieve their mileage goals. I’ve coached runners in this situation. They find a way to make it happen because getting to their running goals is important enough to them to make it a top priority. Obviously this kind of running schedule isn’t for everyone, but the idea is the same. It all depends on what you can do and how badly you want to succeed.

The best way to become a better runner is to run more, plain and simple. Ask yourself if your current schedule allows you to run more. Then give yourself in the best possible chance to succeed with a plan that addresses these three questions. A plan that is specific enough, has results that can be measured, is realistic and is within a specific timeframe.

Get out there and #hittherhode, and don’t hesitate to ask me about any of these principles of running goal-setting.

Run better. Run smarter. Run for life.

Coach Mwangi

Coach MwangiComment