Effective Goal Setting

We guide you through the process of determining good goals

Best performances require much more than the physical aspects of conditioning.

Training your mind is just as important, and doing so begins with goal setting.

When a new runner approaches us about coaching, the first thing we ask them is to tell us in detail about their goals. One reason we ask is because knowing their goals is an important part of being able to structure their training. But this is only part of the reason. When athletes write down their goals, they are forced to examine themselves and see their own dreams. This is important because ultimately, why they hope to achieve their goals—not simply knowing what their goals are—is what motivates them to chase their athletic, and life, ambitions.

To our surprise, during this communication process we have found that more than 75% of runners have only set very broad, general goals. Additionally, they have very little idea why these goals are important to them. Through discussion and targeted activities, they are able to clarify for themselves what and why they hope to achieve in sport or life, dramatically enhancing their odds of attaining their goals.

Having both a clear sense of where you would like to go and why you would like to go there are critical to providing direction to successful running. This knowledge does two things. First, it allows your day-to-day living and training to take on more direction and meaning. Secondly, even the most fantastic achievements are of little meaning if they are not of tremendous importance to you in the moment of achievement and during the journey to their attainment. Having a very strong understanding of what your goals are and why you are pursuing them can keep you going when the obstacles in your path become large and scary, can lead you to your greatest achievements, and can ensure that you fully savour  the joy of those achievements.

Let’s take a more detailed look at the components of effective goal setting and provide some activities to help you more clearly identify your goals.

Step 1: The Athlete Essay

Take a pad of paper and a pen and go hang out in a quiet place where you will be free of distractions. It is best if you are well rested and in a positive mood. Write each of the following questions at the top of a sheet of paper:

• What is a runner?
• Why do I like to be a runner?
• What do I like most about being a runner?
• What is the most important thing that I gain from my participation in running?
• Is there one thing I would really like to accomplish in running?
• Is there anything else that I would like to accomplish in running?
• Why would I like to work towards and accomplish these goals?

Then simply ponder one question at a time and let your thoughts flow out onto the paper. Use as many sheets as you need. It is best not to worry about neatness or grammar; just let your thoughts flow randomly. Take your time; write down all that is on your mind. If there’s a lot going on up there, it may be best not to try to tackle all this in one sitting. You can tackle one question or set of questions a night. This process may get you thinking about things you have never thought about so feel free to go back and add to parts you already started as new thoughts arise.

When you are finished, set the papers aside and leave them alone for two or three days. Then, you are ready for steps 2-5.

Now go back and read what you wrote. Again, make sure to find a quiet place free of distractions. Take your time and read through everything you wrote. After a thorough reading, you should be ready to start defining your specific goals for yourself.

Step 2: Define Attitude/Outlook Goals

The first thing you want to clearly identify for yourself is the attitude you want to take to your participation in running. This is the attitude you want to have about the sport, about training and about racing. This is a very personal and individual view that is unique to you, there are no right answers. Using all that you thought about, wrote about and reviewed, you should be able to see what is most important to you and what attitude will allow you to foster the kind of experience you would like to have. Although less tangible and measurable, this type of goal assures that you can have “success” through having the kind of experience you desire regardless of performance outcomes.


Title a new piece of paper: GOALS, then list your Attitude/Outlook Goals.

Examples of Attitude/Outlook Goals:
• My goal is to work with determination and perseverance toward my very challenging performance goals while maintaining an attitude of fun and play throughout the journey.
• My goal is to use my participation in running to help me to create and continually foster friendships with other active, health conscious people.

Step 3: Define Life Performance Goal

Next, you should be ready to identify what is the biggest, grandest thing you would like to accomplish in running or sport. Don’t hold back. All great things start with a vision. If there is something you would really like to do, something you have a burning desire to do, it can be your Life Performance Goal.

Not all athletes will feel like they have such a goal. That’s fine. If that’s the case, then simply move on. But for athletes who have this kind of desire it is imperative that they identify it for themselves, since this goal is what drives all yearly and short-term goals.

Examples of Life Performance Goals:
 My goal: Qualify for and run the Boston Marathon.
• My goal: Run a 100 mile trail race.
• My goal: Run a marathon every year.

Step 4: Define Annual Performance Goals

Next you should define your goals for the upcoming year or similar period of time. These are your Annual Performance Goals. These goals should challenge you to grow in the direction of your Life Performance Goals and reflect your Attitude/Outlook goals.

Examples of Annual Performance Goals:
• My goal: Race under 40 minutes in a 10K by September.
• My goal: Complete the Grandma’s Marathon in June.

Step 5: Define Short-Term Goals

From your longer-range goals, it is important to set short-term goals which will challenge you to grow on a daily basis. For many athletes, it works well to identify new short-term goals each time they create their new short term training plan (i.e., every month, two weeks or week). Although your Life Performance Goal and Annual Performance goals set the stage for your participation in sport, it is the short-term goals that form the foundation of your success. These goals ask you to take small steps each day that prepare you to attain your Annual Performance and Life Performance Goals. These should be based not only on your performance goals but on your Attitude/Outlook goals as well.

Examples of short-term goals:

• My goal: Get to bed by 9:30 each night this week.
• My goal: Run five days and 40 miles per week this month.
• My goal: Eat salad for lunch this week.
• My goal: Run one speed workout per week.
• My goal: Spend time playing with my kids after this weekend’s race.

Step 6: Continual Evaluation and Re-Setting of Goals

The final step in effective goal setting is continual evaluation of your progress and the setting of new goals. At the end of each day, each training period, after races and at the end of a year or season are all good times to evaluate your progress towards your goals. At this time you should also consider your personal feelings, because the learning that comes with life and time is likely to change you. Taking together the concrete experiences of the previous period and your self-examined attitude/outlook on the sport, you can continually re-set your goals both long and short-term to guide you to success in the direction you would like to go.

Will Kirousis BS, CSCS and Jason Gootman MS, CSCS coach endurance athletes of all levels at Tri-Hard Sports Conditioning Systems, www.tri-hard.com.

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