This Runner's Trials

Setting SMART Goals

Posted by runnerstrials

I’m a very goal-oriented person. I like to set the bar high and work my booty off to meet a challenge. (Obviously, don't all athletes?)

Goals are good. The Association for Applied Sports Psychology says that athletes who set goals and regularly evaluate them are more successful than those who don’t. Goals can also foster self-esteem and and boost confidence. (source)

But goals aren’t always beneficial. Setting the bar too high- or even too low- can lead to failure and disappointment. (source)

Back in the wonderful day of public health grad school, I learned all about goals. To achieve goals, you need to be SMART about it:

Specific: The goal should specify what you need to achieve.

Measurable: You should be able to measure if you’re meeting the objectives along the way or not.

Achievable: The goal should be achievable.

Realistic: You should be able to realistically meet the goal with the resources you have.

Time-sensitive: A time-frame in which you’ll achieve the goal.

My goal: to qualify for the Boston Marathon.


I’m 12 days out from my race and it’s time to see if I’ve been SMART or not:

Specific: I need to run a marathon in 3:40:59, or faster than 8:27 per mile. Can’t get much more specific than that.

Measurable: I’ve been following a training plan for 14 weeks. I’ve been doing the prescribed easy runs, tempo runs, interval runs, long runs, and rest days. (One of my three planned 20 milers turned into an 18 miler, but I’m ok with that.)

Achievable: SmartCoach says I can run a 3:37 marathon. Mind you, SmartCoach doesn’t allot time for potty breaks, walking through aid stations or wind, rain, hail, hills, snow, and any other unexpected event that may ruin my race ;)

Realistic: Unfortunately, the “resources” I have are my own legs. I would feel much more confident wearing someone else’s.

Time-sensitive: I want to meet my goal between the 1:37 and 1:40 p.m. on Sunday, October 17, 2010. How’s that for time-sensitive?

I’m not sure I feel SMART. I definitely feel SMAT…

I don’t know if my goal was ever realistic for me. But I’m ok with that. If I was sure it was realistic and bound to happen, it wouldn’t be a very good goal, would it?

The point of a goal is to challenge yourself and see what you’re capable of achieving. I don’t think any of us know our full potential until we try. And what’s the harm in trying? Well besides blisters, chafing, stomach problems and tears?

I am still going to give it my all on October 17. But I don’t want to view the whole race as a fail if I finish after 3:40:59. Imagine if I finish in 3:45. Yes, it would suck to be so close, but am I honestly a failure if I run 4 minutes slower over 26.2 miles than I wanted to? No. (I better not have just jinxed myself...)

So, I’ve re-evaluated my goals using the college application approach:

My “reach” goal: BQ

My “realistic” goal: Sub 4:00

My “safe” goal: PR, anything faster than 5:15:44. Which should be a “gimme” considering I didn’t train for my first marathon.

But, as long as I line up at the start line, I'll consider myself a winner for getting through training and having the courage to try to meet my goal :)

What are your goals? Do you re-evaluate them as you get further along in training? Do you have reach, realistic, and safe goals?

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