SMART Goal Setting

Whether you’re aiming to run off a few pounds or setting your sights on a marathon PB, you've got a much better chance of achieving your goals by setting them the SMART way.

Goals give you focus. If you're just running and you don't have a purpose it is easy to become demotivated and lose sense of why you're doing it. This is one of the reasons that many people give up exercise.

Goal setting and recording your progress also helps you see whether your training is working, allowing you to adjust accordingly. Finally it gives you an amazing sense of achievement when you do finally reach your goal. This leaves you with much more confidence to go on and achieve your next goals, whether they’re related to running or other areas of your life.

What do you Want?

Figuring out exactly what you want to achieve is the first and most important step. Do you want to run further? Faster? Or just feel fitter? Set both short and long term goals - they are of equal importance to keep you motivated and engaged with your training programme.


It’s important that your goals are SMART - this means:

What exactly is it that you want? (E.g. How much weight-loss? How far do you want to be able to run? Or how fast?)
Measurable: How will you know when you have achieved your goal? What measurements will you make and when?
Achievable: What is it that convinces you that you can achieve this goal?
Relevant: Why is it important to you?
Time: How long will it take you to achieve the goal or goals?

Here's an example:

Specific: To run my next 10k race in 45 minutes.
Measurable: I will measure my minute-mile pace with weekly tempo runs to ensure I'm on target.
Achievable: I have run for 46 minutes before and know I can improve my training/diet, so am positive I can achieve this.
Relevant: It is something I have always wanted to achieve.
Time: I shall do this in 12 weeks time

Essential Questions

Before you finally commit to your goal, ask yourself:

- What do you need to do or change to make your goals a reality?
- Who could help you achieve your goals?
- What steps do you need to take to reach your goals?
- How will you feel when you have achieved your goals?
- How will you celebrate or reward yourself?

The Four Keys to Successful Goal Setting

So, to sum up, to set and achieve your goals make sure you:

1) Identify what it is you want in the near future and also further down the line.
2) Make sure your goals are SMART.
3) Work out what could go wrong and plan for it.
4) Ask yourself the Essential Questions before diving in.

Now you are ready to go and make your dreams a reality, enjoy the new challenges that lie ahead!

Paul Waters is a running expert and senior tutor at Lifetime, the top national training provider in the active leisure industry.

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Matt, I must say I agree with you. I work with sports people to improve their mental game. Whether in sport or other aspects of life we often set a goal that is too much in our heads. By that I mean we are logical in our approach. What you have explained in your comment about confidence,  etc. is the "real" reason that you run. What I do is to help an athlete understand these real reasons first, before even thinking about what their goal might be. This engages them at a different level. Often it helps them to get an insight to a goal that is much, much more attractive to them. If you can engage with your goal at a higher level you are much more likely to achieve it because you are focussing on the real benefits of reaching it. Once you have reached this stage you can start to plan how you will get their and the SMART model is one, but not always the best, approach.

I would like to pose you a question related to your final comment. When you are "jus' runnin'" what does that get for you? I believe their will be a higher reason.



I'm sorry, but I don't agree. Granted, in the corporate world of business then the SMART acronym is valid (although it breaks down there too), but I would never set about my running in such an academic way.

Take marathon preparation.

I know I can do a marathon, given 3 or 4 months of training, but while that meets all of the SMART criteria, I'm still only running because I want to. I want all the 'trimmings' that come with running (confidence, de-stress, health, etc), just as much as the medal at the end, and I'll know that they will come even if the race itself is a complete wash-out (or in the case of ballot marathons, if I don't even get a place).

Running can be an end in itself, and more often than not (cue Forrest Gump) "I'm jus runnin'".