This Runner's Trials

Setting SMART Goals

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?

Comments (27) Trackbacks (8)
  1. Great post, I think a BQ is definitely realistic for you! Can’t wait to hear how it goes :)

  2. Awesome post, chica! I’m hoping to qualify for boston, but not sure if this marathon is the time. My little hammy issue that popped up last week was a bit surprising, but I’ve been doing my best not to overdo it and stretch and ice as much as possible.

    I think it’s okay to have a goal that you really want to reach, even if it is a bit of a reach. Plus, your legs can do that speed, it’s just a matter of if Oct. 17 is that day. With your attitude, I’m sure you will rock that marathon. I’m excited for mine to just be here and be over on Sunday. :) Is that bad? Let’s hope it’s under 3:49 (my PR) and if I’m way lucky, 3:40. But either way, I’m going to appreciate the race and what my body is able to do.

  3. I hope, hope, hope you BQ! You can’t get everything you want unless you aim high. But, if you don’t BQ, there will be more marathons in your future, I’m sure. :-)

  4. I think you have great goals! You continue to inspire me with your training.

    Two weeks ago, I had goals. Today, I don’t. I feel like I met my goal. I survived 18 weeks of rigorous marathon training. More than can be measured in one day or one performance. I dream of running a strong 26.2 mile race and feeling amazing at the end. My goal is to finish.

    Tapering is relaxing in some ways, but it’s certainly causing me to reevaluate the race. It has a way of causing me to lose some confidence in myself…but not in you!!! I cannot wait to hear your race recap because I truly believe you will achieve your goal that day.

  5. You ARE SMART! I hope that you can achieve your ultimate goal of BQ. I always have a realistic goal and a “shoot or the stars goal” otherwise, I would always be disappointed and unmotivated!

  6. I think it’s okay for goals to sometimes not be “totally realistic” too. Before my half, I knew a 7:23 pace was ambitious (and probably only achievable with perfect conditions) but I still went for it, didn’t hit it, and didn’t at all feel bad about it because I knew I did my best. Personally I would rather know that I challenged myself and didn’t quite hit the mark than to not expect enough of myself and wonder what would have happened if I had mentally sought out to do better.

  7. goood luck in qualifying for Boston. You seem to be so close. I feel you with the leg situation. My race is a little over a month away and I just strained my groin during my last 18 mile run which turned into 16 because I was not able to manage the pain.

    All we can do is keep our fingers crossed our bodies will help us through.

  8. My goal for the Dublin Marathon on October 25th is a 4.45.
    I have followed the training plan but have run into a lot of problemsin the last week with injury and pain in my leg.
    I have seen my physical therapist and together we have pushed to get me fit enough to race.
    I am realistic in my belief that I have put in the training but I will not know until race day whether I am physicially able to reach my goal.
    But you know what? I am going to go out there and do my very best. Once I come in under 5.15, I will be happy.
    You can only do your best, with the knowledge that you have put in the miles and done what you can. The rest lies in the hands of who knows!!!
    Good luck – I am rooting for you and will be thinking of you on the 17th! Beantown all the way!!!!

  9. Oh my gosh, I’m getting the pre-race jitters just reading this post! I LOVE the way you’ve mapped it all out (and will probably use this post for my own pre-marathon visualization if you don’t mind!)

    I love the comment you made about your resources, but you forgot one big important resource you have — your head…or your heart. You wrote about earlier how running is a mind game, and the marathon is no different. No matter how tired your legs are, your head/heart will tell where to go…and how fast. So just focus on keeping your mind and will strong (which I know it is) and I have no doubt you will cross that finish line under 3:40:59! :)

  10. Another good one Jen! I think you have definitely been very SMART about this race. Based on all of you prior posts, I think you definitely hit each point spot on throughout your training.

    I usually set goals, but I never reevaluate along the way. And I’ve never looked at them using the SMART method. I’ll definitely be using this method going forward!

    • Thank you. I hope I’ve been SMART! Try it out :) I think it depends on the race. Triathloning was so over my head I was happy just to finish. But with running, I always like having goals in mind to challenge myself.

  11. I see my town on that picture! I love that you have goals and SMART goals! I can’t wait for you to qualify so we can hang out when you come up for Boston. Good luck Jen!

  12. You are STRONG and fearless! I know you can do it!!

    My main goal is to be healthy. Even it means selling my Garmin and never doing intense cardio ever again!

  13. youa re going to rock that race! You have planned and trained so well! You can do it!

  14. First, I am so glad that you found my blog. It’s always encouraging to find other MPHs and to learn about your experiences. I had to giggle a little bit at this post. We just finished up a section in my social and behavioral theories class on setting SMART HOs and BOs. This week we moved on to learning models, but I loved that this post put a theory into real life! :)

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