Setting a running goal should be done intentionally and serve to motivate you, not stress you out. Whether you are trying to lose weight, become more physically fit, or step into the competitive running world, you can use specific strategies and approaches to set goals for yourself as a new runner.
Three Goals to Set for Yourself as a New Runner
Like any new skill, setting goals as a new runner takes practice. However, the good news is that once those goals are set, new runners often see improvement quickly and gain valuable insight into themselves as athletes. The trick is to not take on too much, too soon. The following types of running goals are a good place to start as a new runner:
When you are new to running, starting small is important. For most people, this means using run/walk intervals to build up strength and endurance for running.
Physically speaking, running requires output from both your cardiovascular and musculoskeletal systems. Even if you have trained for other sports and have a strong cardiovascular system, you’ll need to build strength in new areas because running places different stress on your joints, muscles, and bones. Using run/walk intervals helps prevent injury by gradually building strength in these areas and allowing for rest in between. This approach can help reduce the risk of common injuries such as runner's knee, IT band syndrome, and shin splints.
There are many different combinations you can use to develop a run/walk goal. True beginners may want to start alternating 30 seconds of running or jogging with a minute of walking. Those with more athletic experience may be able to expand their running times, alternating between 2 to 4 minutes of running with that same 1-minute walking interval.
Setting a schedule for running is another important goal that will turn running into a habit. Like run/walk intervals, the specifics of consistency goals depend on your previous level of fitness and other athletic activities. For some new runners, simply getting up and moving 2 to 3 days per week for 20 minutes is a great start. Others may want to integrate running more often within a cross-training program. Either way, make sure to give yourself time to recover between running sessions to help your muscles rebuild. As you move on from beginner to novice runner, the frequency and duration of your runs should increase.
Run a Specific Distance
Whether you want to be able to run around the neighborhood or a full marathon, distance-based goals are another way to track your progress as a new runner. Signing up for a race and keeping a running log will help you with a distance-based goal. However, make sure that you properly build a foundation before setting too high of a number. The types of goals listed above (running consistently and non-stop) are a good start. Further, a good rule of thumb is to consistently train for at least 6 months before working towards any long-distance event, including both half and full marathons.
Setting SMART Running Goals
Regardless of the type of goal you choose, you want it to be challenging but achievable. Fortunately, there is a simple system that you can use: SMART goal setting.
Originally developed for businesses, the acronym SMART is an easy way to remember the traits that good goals should possess. Good running goals are:
Describe your goals in detail (specific), including metrics to gauge your performance (measurable). Keep your goals realistic (attainable) and meaningful to you as a runner (relevant). Then, set a timeline for achievement (time-bound). In addition, SMART goals both define and help you reach your performance targets as a runner, which will keep you motivated to lace up those running shoes every week.
Setting Healthy Goals as a New Runner
According to a 2020 Sport and Fitness Industry Association report, over 50 million Americans identify as participating in some form of running or jogging on a regular basis. However, the key to longevity is to set goals for yourself as a new runner, so you can keep your health at the forefront. So, regardless of the time, distance, or nature of your running goal, be sure to also include rest in your weekly routine. Listen to your body and back off when necessary. Whether you are starting to run for health and fitness or to participate in a competitive running event, setting healthy goals can help you continue to run for years to come.