Setting Race Goals

One of the best motivational factors you can use during your training is goals.  For most of us, goals help keep us going.  We runners are a driven bunch and we are often driven by numbers.  They can be a useful tool but it is key to set out towards achievable and realistic goals.  It is also important to have a back up plan or two.  As many of us know, even the most seasoned runner never knows what will happen on race day.  We need to plan on both the best and the even not so best situations.

Usually we have a time goal in mind for most events.  While this is great, it is important that you know what your abilities are and what a realistic time would be for you.  There are several resources, including websites that will help you figure out your projected finish time for a given distance based on a previous race or time trial.  These are extremely helpful but are obviously not exact.  However, I think this can be very useful to determine what a likely finish time would be for a race, especially a longer distance like a half or full marathon if you have never done one before.

I once coached a runner who had done a moderate 10k pace and expressed interest in running a 3:30 marathon.  This would be her first marathon and her former times had her running an average pace of 9:00-10:00 min/miles.  While this was a great long term goal for her to possibly work for, I felt that it was very unrealistic for her to believe that would be her expected finish time during an 18 week training session.  Using a resource to determine what her finish might be was helpful for painting a better picture of what we should expect.

While PR’s or certain finish times are great goals to have in mind, there are plenty of other goals you can set for yourself.  One of the most common I hear is the plan to not walk.  This is a great one and if you have been following a training plan, it should be relatively achievable.  Other things to aspire for might be to fuel properly so that you don’t hit a wall, to take in the sights of a particular race, or to just plain have fun.


Whenever you set goals for yourself I recommend having an A, B, and C goal to aspire for; otherwise known as Best Case Scenario, Next Best Case Scenario, and Better Than Not Scenario.  By doing this you are avoiding setting yourself up for failure.

Say you set out to train for a particular distance and you have a time goal in mind.  After all of your training, race day arrives and shortly into the run you realize that your body is just not doing what you had hoped of it.  Two miles into a race you see that you are going to fall short of your goal.  If that is your one and only plan for that race, it will be a major let down.  In fact, it would be easy to let yourself give up.  Mentally, you need something else to fall back on.

However, by having a B and C goal to aspire for, all hope is not lost.  You can still make something happen with this race.


The key to setting those B and C goals is to have a plan to make them work for you under almost any circumstance.  While  a PR is a great A plan, a good B plan would be to finish under a “next best time” or perhaps to jog the whole way and not walk.  Then you need to set a “less than desirable situation goal.”  Perhaps this one would be to smile the whole time, or to high five any kids you see along the course.  The C situation should be something that you will likely achieve, even under less than ideal circumstances.  And yes, finishing no matter what is an excellent goal.

By having a game plan with an A, B, and C scenario you are setting yourself up for a successful race that will help get you all the way to the finish and with a positive attitude.


What kind of goals do you like to set before a race?

7 thoughts on “Setting Race Goals

  1. Thanks Coach, great advice…while I would love to PR every race which is unlikely…for me anyway. B and C for me are to have fun, finish and enjoy the race and always be thankful that I can run.

  2. Love this post! Very timely too. I have been going back and forth on what my race goals are for my upcoming race. I have been going back and forth on my A, B, and C goals. Haven’t quite figured them out yet. This will be my first time racing a race in awhile so it should be interesting.

    • Those are fantastic goals and ones that are often forgotten. It can be harder to work on pacing so that makes for a great goal to strive for and one that will make you a stronger runner in the end. Thanks so much for pointing that out.

  3. Pingback: Setting Realistic Goals | Running On Healthy

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