The Smart Runner Girl’s Guide to SMART Goals



Catherine has written 26 posts on Salty Running.

Runner mom and middle school English teacher whose students often believe you can't do anything cool with reading and writing and who is relishing the opportunity to prove them wrong.

Austrian Forward Rubin Okotie tries to score o...

Time for a GOOOOOOAAALLL! (img via wikipedia)

All of the World Cup craziness lately has me thinking about goals. In soccer, it’s easy to see whether or not you’ve achieved your goal: your team wins, the crowd goes crazy (or in the case of the U.S. your team loses to Germany and the crowd still goes crazy), and the commentators infamously scream, “GOOAAAAL!”

But how can runners achieve that same sense of pride if we don’t win the race? Is my goal of “running a marathon” good enough to push me through five months of training and cross the finish line with a sense of complete fulfillment, or should I dig a little deeper to reap an even better reward?

It all comes down to goals; specifically, SMART goals. What does that mean? Read on!

I first learned about setting SMART goals when I was an undergrad working on my communications B.A. I love when I can find new uses for old information and my recent marathon training made me harken back to this gem learned in a dark lecture hall at SUNY Geneseo. Usually reserved for business, I think the SMART goal-setting technique is very applicable to our running lives, and hopefully it will help you and me achieve our big running dreams!

SMART goals are:

  1. Specific. Goals should be simple and include as many details as possible to make objectives clear. (e.g. run xx time in xx race or qualify for Boston)
  2. Measurable. Goals should be able to be measured so evidence can be gathered. (e.g. the clock at the end of the course)
  3. Attainable. Goals should not be too lofty, but still provide a challenge. (e.g. cross the finish line)
  4. Relevant. Smaller goals should directly benefit larger goals. All should lead to greater success. (e.g. follow a training plan)
  5. Time-bound. Good goals have deadlines. (e.g. run xx time by xxxx date)
English: tuned smart car

SMART: Not just for cars (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For most of us, running goals fit one of these criteria. However, researchers argue that the more SMART criteria a person can add to her goal or goals, the more satisfaction or success she can achieve. For example, I know I want to finish my marathon, but according to this theory, I might be happier and feel more successful if I added more of the SMART criteria.

Old Goal: Finish the 2014 NYC Marathon.  

SMARTer Goals:

  • Adjust my plan if missed workouts happen or keep going if I have setbacks.

Rather than saying that I will never miss a workout, I’m giving myself an attainable goal. I probably will have things that come up, but I will try to keep going even if I get hung up.

  • Foam roll or stretch after every long run.

I’d like to have the goal of never getting injured, but things might happen that are out of my control. I’m going to commit to doing what I can to stay injury-free. 

  • Maintain a positive attitude toward running by keeping track of at least one small success each workout.

Surely, there will be slumps. There will be days I don’t feel like getting out of bed. However, I want to keep a record of the good things I’ve done and celebrate those rather than focus on what I can’t or didn’t do. This is clearly measurable as I’ll have something in front of me to track. It also is relevant because each small success clearly relates to my larger goal.

  • If I get down, I’ll visualize crossing the finish line in Central Park. My kids screaming for me. The crowd noise. The wash of blue and orange in the crisp November air. It’s so going to be worth it to feel that pride.

It’s not enough to say you want to cross the finish line. It’s better to be specific. Why do you want to cross? What do you hope will happen on the other side? Setting goals for how you will respond to adversity is a compassionate way to quell those nagging fears that keep you up at night.

  • I’ll reflect and readjust on Sundays and share these tweaks with my supporters.

Right now I have Sundays slated for my long runs. I know I’ll be ready to assess the week ahead after that’s out of the way. I’ll try to arrange day care or appointments on this day and be sure to clue key people in on what will need to be done. I’ll also use this day to plan out which fun classes or cross-training I’ll do that week. This goal is time bound. I have a set deadline each week instead of waiting until an emergency or race day to realize that I should have changed course.

  • Go outside my comfort zone to connect with new running buds.

I have a cute little posse of ladies that I run with on Saturdays at the YMCA, but I know that most of them are not planning on running a fall marathon. I really need to get out of my own head, stop being so solitary, and try to arrange some group runs with other fall marathoners. I’ve already crossed off a piece of this goal since I applied to write for Salty Running. Score!

  • Be present and fully aware of my body and my surroundings during the amazing 2014 NYC Marathon

Of course I want to finish this race, but it’s so much more important to me that I enjoy running it. I will only have one first marathon and this might be my one and only. If I want to reach an arbitrary time goal, I can run our local flat and fast marathon. This race is all about seeing 26.2 miles of New York City as only a select few (thousand) can– on foot!

Comparing my old goal to the new goals, it’s easy to see how they’re not just SMART, they’re smarter! At the end of the race, it’s not all about the result; it’s also about the successes you achieve along the way.  My old goal now seems very far away and even a little risky. What if I don’t finish? What if something happened that prevented me from racing hard, or–knock on wood–racing at all? Would I feel like a complete failure? How would I feel in the middle of the summer when the race was still months away? By setting SMART goals, we can reach some mini-triumphs to keep the motivation up throughout the entire training cycle.

What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as what you become by achieving your goals.” – Henry David Thoreau

For more information on setting great goals, check out Mint’s goal setting post. Sassafras also outlined some ways that you could keep motivated by focusing on the big goals. 

What is your current running goal?  How could you change that goal to make it SMARTer?

2 Responses to “The Smart Runner Girl’s Guide to SMART Goals”

Read below or add a comment...

  1. Chamomile Chamomile says:

    Hi Lemongrass! Thanks for this…great tips and reminders to stay SMART. I like the “T” the best, personally. I’m a fan of setting goals, but they always seems to have “someday” attached to them. Like, “someday, I’ll run 6 days a week” or “someday, I’ll fix my nutrition plan…but not until XYZ happen first.” This has me thinking about setting deadlines and viewing the self-inflicted urgency as a fun challenge instead of a scary prospect. I’m going to try applying it to my not-so-SMART goal for January, which is currently “Run a PR at the Louisiana Marathon.” Haha! How’s that for vague??

    Looks like you have some great goals set — looking forward to reading more about your NYC Marathon journey! :)

  2. Lemongrass Lemongrass says:

    I’m definitely like you with the “someday” goals. I just got sick of running races and even if I got my PR feeling a big, empty “so what” afterward! Hopefully this will feel a little bit more substantial. I’ll keep you posted on how it goes– let me know how it works out for you, too!

Leave a Reply