Setting Realistic Running Goals

  • By Jeff Gaudette
  • Published Jan. 15, 2014
  • Updated Jan. 16, 2014 at 11:41 AM UTC

To be successful (and happy) in running, you need to have realistic expectations.

One of the most difficult aspects of being a running coach is helping athletes set realistic goals. No one wants to be the person that tells a fellow runner their dream of qualifying for Boston probably won’t happen, or that they can’t return from an injury quick enough to run their goal race.

While I believe in having “stretch” goals, it is a reality that to be successful (and happy) in running, you need to have realistic expectations in regard to your improvement and performance curve. The potential downside of having out-of-reach goals is that you train too hard, push your body before it’s ready, and lose motivation due to lack of progress.

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As such, I caution runners against focusing their training on a goal time or a specific performance objective. That’s not to say you can’t have a particular time goal or performance in mind, but rather that your training for that goal should be focused on the process of taking the next logical step to get fitter each day, week and month of the training cycle.

The subtle difference between training for a specific goal and training to improve while still having goals can often be a difficult concept for runners to comprehend. Let’s explore this idea further in the following pages.

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Jeff Gaudette

Jeff Gaudette

Jeff has been running for 13 years, at all levels of the sport. He was a two time Division-I All-American in Cross Country while at Brown University and competed professionally for 4 years after college for the Hansons-Brooks Distance Project. Jeff's writing has been featured in Running Times magazine, Endurance Magazine, as well as numerous local magazine fitness columns.

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