Setting new goals in any sport is the best way of developing and progressing, because without them you can be rudderless and lack motivation.

If you have no particular target to aim for, your running will be characterised by a lack of direction. So a runner who continues to set new goals and accept new challenges, is a runner who is constantly achieving new success. Here’s how to do it.

Ask a lot of questions

If you are to set achievable goals, you need to be clear on what you want and how to get there. Be honest with yourself.  Why you are running? Is it to lose weight? Is it to keep a partner company or share a hobby with them? What is your main motivation? Where is your fitness now? When you’ve answered those questions, you can start to form a vision of how you’re going to reach your targets. What do you need to do to get there? What help will you need? Are your goals realistic? You might want to run a sub 3-hour marathon, but realistically, is that going to happen? For most people it won’t, but you can definitely run a marathon, so think about it in those terms. Talk to other people. Learn from their experience. It will help you aim for something that you can realistically achieve.

Write your goals down

This will instantly make it seem more real. You are targeting a specific event or race distance and outlining how you plan to achieve it. If you are kidding yourself in any way, it will be glaringly obvious in black and white. Remember, your goals need to be realistic, measurable and specific. Vague won’t cut it. You have to know what you want to achieve and how to do it. Try to remember the acronym SMART.

S – Specific

M – Measurable

A – Action required

R – Realistic

T – Time

Slow but steady

When choosing a new or fresh challenge, allow plenty of time to get there. Don’t decide in January you want to run a spring marathon. The chances are you won’t be able to make it. Pick something a few months away and build up to it methodically and steadily. Your body will gradually adapt to the increasing workload and that will help you stay injury free.

Give yourself a break

If you do want to run a particular race distance in a specific time, be cautious about obsessing too much about it, pushing your body too hard and then beating yourself up if you don’t achieve it. A lot of people want to run a 5k in under 20 minutes, but relatively few people achieve it. You may train ferociously to achieve this goal and fall just short, but don’t allow your disappointment at what you see as failure to overwhelm you. You need to be thinking of the difference between a short-term goal and a longer term one. Try to think of it as running a super fast 5k in 21 minutes, which you couldn’t have done 2 years ago, rather than some notional threshold, which equates to something massive in your head. It may well have been a PB, but if you are stuck to a rigid idea in your head, you won’t be able to enjoy something that is a fantastic achievement.

A day at a time

Although having a target is essential in overall terms, you need to take your training a step at a time. Success doesn’t happen overnight for anyone. That means taking one day at a time. A good day at the running office is fantastic, but it can quickly be followed by a bad day too. Chalk it all off to experience and don’t stress. It can be infuriating to run well on Tuesday and awfully on Thursday, but it happens. If you’re following your overall plan and training accordingly, you will get there. Bad days are something all runners have. It’s not just you.

Do your homework

If you want to target a race or distance that you’ve never done before, do your homework. Talk to other runners who’ve run half marathons and their experiences will guide you. Read as much as you can on blogs/website and in books. Knowledge is power so use it.

Learn from your mistakes

Think about the amount of running you’ve done before and examine what worked for you and what didn’t. It’s really important to know what your strengths and weaknesses are. This will enable you to move forward confidently. Sometimes runners get stuck in a rut without realising it. They stick to the same routines, same types of training but don’t really improve. Doing what you’ve always done, will give you what you’ve always got. So don’t be afraid to make a change. Find a running coach or mentor and ask their advice. They will be honest with you. You might not initially like hearing what they have to say, but more often than not, it will help you progress.