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Effective goal setting

With the often enforced inactivity of the festive period behind us, and the prospect of a new year ahead, this is a good time to take a minute and set some goals and targets for the year ahead.

It makes sense to take advantage of the motivation that comes from new year goals, but if you want that motivation to last beyond the dark nights of February and have a real impact it is worth putting a bit more thought into the process of goal setting.

With unstructured goals it is all too common to see motivation trail off after the initial 6 weeks of quick rewards passes, or even more likely for runners is a rapid increase in mileage and volume of training leading to an injury that puts you off well into the summer.


Adding some structure to your goal setting process will massively increase your chances of reaching your goals. An effective but simple test for your goals is to check if they are SMART:

Specific - Just saying “I want to get fitter” is not a specific goal that you can plan a programme around. Even if you aren’t planning to enter an event or race, adding some detail to what you want to get fitter for will help structure your training and keep you motivated. This could be a particular route you want to run, or a time in which to do 5/10/50km in.

Measurable - Running lends itself well to measurable targets and it is easy to pick a specific metric to measure that matches with your goal. This could be pace for a set distance, yearly or weekly mileage or vertical ascent, length of long runs or number of exercise sessions in a week.

The important thing to recognise is that you can’t expect to target all of these metrics at once. Pick the one that best fits your goals, or even better periodise your calendar to target different fitness goals throughout your programme.

Achievable - There is definitely a balance with this one. I do believe that we are all capable of a lot more than we think, and personally I get the most reward from setting out on adventures with an uncertain outcome. Over the last few years I have signed up for events that scared me, and set off on personal challenges without a clear idea of whether I could complete them. Sometimes this meant I came up short and I learnt from the failures, and other times it motivated me to put in the training time, and push on to complete some amazing personal milestones.

Getting the balance right will be easier with experience, as you start to explore your limits, but as a guide the challenge should excite you as much as it scares you! Flogging yourself in training for a completely unachievable goal quickly becomes demotivating.


"the challenge should excite you as much as it scares you!"


Realistic - Wouldn’t it be great to be able to run like Kilian by the end of the summer, or cut your marathon time in half. You could even write yourself a training programme to make this happen. The first few weeks would be extremely hard work but you would see some fast results in your performance. It would all go downhill very quickly after that as overtraining would lead to fatigue and injury, possibly setting you back months at a time.

Rather than doing a 10k run and a circuits session every day for two weeks at the start of January and putting yourself out of action until May, plan to fit a strength session into your programme once or twice a week and feel the benefits as you sustain that into the summer.

Timed - Setting time specific targets will help you to know if your training is on track and make adjustments accordingly. Ideally you would have a single long term goal 6 months to a year ahead. Thinking about what you would need to get there, you can then set medium and short term goals that act as stepping stones along the way.

If your long term goal is a significant challenge it can be daunting to think of how much you need to do to achieve it, these shorter goals break down the task and give you rewards along the way to keep you motivated.


Once you are set on your target event is worth taking some time to analyse the details so you know exactly what it will require to complete.

Length and time - Obviously for any event you need to be able to cover the distance, if it is an endurance event you will need to build up to the distance gradually to save injury. It is also worth considering the time, are there time cut-offs, or do you have a target time. Based on this what is the average speed you will need to be able to sustain for the distance?

Ascent - Significant amounts of ascent will change an event dramatically, how much climbing will you need to do? How can you fit this in to your training? Ascent also means descent, what is your downhill running technique like? Descending also takes a different toll on your legs, so specific strength and conditioning will be important.

Terrain - Will the event include rocky trails, mud, cross-country sections or tarmac? All have their own physical and technical demands that you need to prepare for.

Skills - Do you need to be able to navigate? Can you do this when you are under pressure and tired? Will it be dark, is it on trails or cross country? Can you use GPS?

Equipment - What kit will you need for the event, can you practice with it? There is little point turning up on the start line with a brand new set of running poles if you don’t know how to use them. Likewise shoe and sock combinations should be well tested for the terrain before race day. Get used to carrying your event pack weight on your training runs.

Food and hydration - Use your training time to work out solutions that will work for you in your event.

Mental preparation - Spend some time visualising the event and what it will feel like to be there. Making your preparation as thorough and specific as possible should mean that it feels familiar and achievable come the real thing.


You can’t plan for the unexpected, but the more research and proper preparation you do before your event the less chance you have of surprises.


Best of luck for 2024, and most of all remember to enjoy it!!


If you want any help achieving your goals, then check out our range of courses for 2024. 

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