How to Set Realistic Running Goals


Running is something that improves your health over time. The key word there being “time.”

Many people jump into something like running or weightlifting and expect dramatic changes instantly. While it is true that many parts of your body will change rapidly throughout the fitness journey, it is also important to come to terms with the fact that many goals aren’t realistic on a short term basis.

Knowing what kind of goals to set and knowing how to see what goals are realistic for you are two very important things that aren’t that hard to understand when you really look at them.

The first thing that you’ll need to realize, though, is that it is perfectly ok to have long term goals. Lofty goals are fine, and give you something aspire to.

You also have to have realistic expectations when it comes to reaching it. Smaller goals along the way will give you a sense of accomplishment and help to tide you over until you make it to the Boston Marathon, or whatever your goal might be. Otherwise, you’ll continuously look at the long term goal and end up pushing yourself to injury or giving up in frustration. The purpose of goal setting is almost purely to help your mind make it through your running journey. Nothing will get in the way quite like an overworked mind will.

Focusing On The Process

Before we set goals, it’s good to know how to enjoy the process of running and improving. The goal is the end game, but it won’t be possible if you struggle with the process. Some people focus entirely on the process and only celebrate every improvement, rather than work towards something. Goals are great, but make sure that you acknowledge every small victory on the way to every goal. That way, you’ll see every improvement for what it is, a leap in your fitness. That being said, let’s figure out your goals.

Setting A Time Goal

Your goal should be directly related to your actual fitness level. It shouldn’t be based on a famous runner if you are just starting your first week of training! You can’t compare yourself to others when setting goals like this. All that matters is your own body and your own capabilities.

There are calculators online that can judge your performance and easily give you a time, but you can also do it on your own. Run a mile as fast as you can. Add about 40 seconds to that time and this should be your goal speed for each mile during a 5k or workout run.

Another 30 seconds on that and this should be your goal pace for a marathon race. That is a rough estimate, but it gives you somewhere to start.

The Top Realistic Goals

For most people, there are a few goals that are easy to achieve and can actually be set and met in just a couple of weeks if you really put in the work.

Take a look at these:

Run A Certain Distance Without Stopping

Many people set a goal of running a mile without stopping, or two miles, or three miles, etc. This is solid, easy to understand, and very possible for the majority of people. For example, if you can run only 100m right now, set a goal for something like 1km. That isn’t as hard as it seems and is very possible.

Run X Amount Of Consecutive Days

You might be tempted to set a goal like, “I’m going to run every single day for the rest of my natural life.” Don’t do it! You’ll let yourself down pretty quick. Think, “I’ll run for 7 straight days,” and see how that works out.

Even running a certain number of days a week is great. Once you get to running 5 days a week, you’ll start seeing your other goals fast approaching while all you were doing was running a certain number of days a week.

Shave A Minute Off Of Your Time

You might want to run a 6 minute mile, but that’s probably a ways off. Instead, set a small goal to shave 10-15 seconds off of your time within a certain time frame. This comes back to the problem of setting goals that are too lofty and will only let you down. A few seconds is easy, a few minutes can take a lifetime.

What To Ask Yourself

No matter what you choose as a goal, you’ll have to ask yourself some questions to see just how possible it is and how long it will take you to reach it.

Ask yourself how big the goal is. Will it take more than three months to get there? If it will, that’s a long term goal and shouldn’t be the primary focus now to avoid frustration.

What are you going to have to do to reach the goal? If you’ll have to run every single day to get there, but also work a full time job with three kids, you might have to reconsider it, or think of it in terms of a longer time frame. You have to be honest with yourself about how much time you can devote to the goal and how dedicated you will continue to be as time passes.

Finally, can you see yourself ever reaching the goal? This shouldn’t be a negative thing, but some people will be pessimistic. This comes back to taking an honest assessment of the goal, but you should be able to at least picture yourself reaching the goal, even if you think it might be far off. Visualize yourself reaching each short term goal and see how it feels.

Overall, goals are important, but can be your worst enemy if they aren’t handled properly. Figure out your long term running goals and write them down. Now forget them. Set short term goals along the way and focus on each one, celebrating the successes along the way. Every victory means you have improved and each goal puts you closer to your end game, whatever it might be.

This article was written for by James S., a guest author.

3 thoughts on “How to Set Realistic Running Goals”

  1. Do you have any of your training plans available in km? I live in Australia and would love to be able to print out one of the plans to follow but it in miles.


    • I have converted them to km 😉 email me if you want on david at ulearnit dot com dot au

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