The Secret to Achieving Any Running Goal

Man and woman running while wearing Fitbit trackers

When I was in high school my dad and I had a summer tradition of writing our running goals for the upcoming year in a cement slab we’d pour in our backyard. Whatever we wrote down we’d commit to go after with all our hearts. Some of those goals I achieved (like running a 4:05 mile in my junior year), others I didn’t (like running 3:55 for the mile in my senior year), but there was always something very powerful in literally cementing my goals. It made me feel like I was writing them into existence.

That said, I don’t know about you, but I always feel a little jaded when the new year rolls around and the discussion turns to New Year’s resolutions. I’ve certainly made my fair share of them over the years, but I don’t think I’ve kept any of them. I find it interesting that I can maintain a level of commitment to running that has carried me to Olympic Games, an American record in the half marathon, and a 2:04 marathon, yet I—like millions of Americans—can’t maintain a New Year’s resolution.

When I reflect on why this might be, I circle back to my heart. Each time I wrote my goals in cement I wasn’t so much saying I was going to undoubtedly run the time I wrote, but that I was committing to the pursuit of my goals. I was as much looking forward to working toward my goals as I was to achieving them. This, I think, is the key to achieving your goals: You must love the pursuit of your goal as much, if not more, than achieving them.

So how do we set goals for 2017 that we both enjoy the pursuit of and can achieve? I’ve got some ideas.


Spend some time thinking about what would make you happy. Is it running a fast marathon, finishing your first 5K, or just getting in better physical shape? Remember: The key to achieving your goal is being in love with the process of chasing it, so having a goal that will bring you joy is a good start.

Even the most dedicated people get into ruts. Whenever I’m not looking forward to a workout I brainstorm ways to make it fun. Can I change the scenery? The distance or speed? Who I’m running with? I know that if I enjoy my workout I’m more likely to work harder and accomplish more with less mental effort.

Whether the race is your end goal or just a stepping stone along the way, put something on your schedule that gets you psyched. As my career went on I had a harder and harder time getting excited for certain races. I learned to be more mindful of the races I selected. Usually, this resulted in running races I hadn’t previously done. So think about trying a new race or going to one in a beautiful location you’ve never visited before.

Let’s be honest, performance-based goals may or may not happen—you’re always at the mercy of factors outside of your control, like weather or an upset stomach—but goals based on what’s in your heart can always be achieved. That’s why I recommend setting one goal that’s performance based (i.e. run a certain time or finish a particular race) and another that’s psychological and that you know you can definitely accomplish (like finding something to be grateful for on every run). I like this approach because you get both the benefit of going after a fun goal (like running faster or further than you ever have) and of knowing you can accomplish the other no matter what.

Before I sign off, here are three running goals that you may want to consider for 2017. The nice things about these goals is you can complete them regardless of the weather, your competitors, or anything else outside your control.

1.  Take more running “steps” then you have ever taken in a year. It is pretty fun to set a goal to see if you can move more than you ever have before.

2. Complete a race you’ve never run before.

3. Run or hike to the top of a mountain (This has always been one of my favorite adventure goals).

I wish you all the best in achieving your goals for 2017. If you fall in love with the pursuit of them, this time next year, you won’t be disappointed.

Next: 5 Steps to Running Your First Marathon

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  • Ryan– home run! Here’s my favorite line:

    “You must love the pursuit of your goal as much, if not more, than achieving them.”

    That is so key, and it sets you up to accept yourself despite not having reached the goal–which is the version of you on 99.9% of the journey. And I’m digging your idea of splitting goals into two categories: performance, and psychological. Smart stuff.

    Bonus** You managed to put a fresh spin on “It’s the journey, not the destination” idea that has been hackneyed into oblivion. Talented runner…talented writer…you’ve got a new fan in me!

    And you’ve inspired me to run Albuquerque’s famous La Luz trail this year.

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