On Setting Goals: 7 Tips for the Novice Runner

Running without a specific race in mind can be challenging even to those who are committed to the sport. I should know. I’ve been running consistently — between 3 and 7 days a week — for nearly 7 years now. I can honestly say that during just one of those years was I devoted to running for the sake of training. During that year, I ran 4 races, to be exact. Since September, I’ve run none.


I’m sure I don’t have to tell you this, but it’s always a good idea to remind yourself that, just because there isn’t a starting line or finisher’s medal in your future, that doesn’t mean you can’t set real, tangible goals — both miniscule and grandiose — to improve ourselves as runners.


Those who run for the sake of, well, running know this well; the ability to maintain a persistent, healthy lifestyle can result in myriad other positive benefits in our lives.

Whether you’re taking a break due to injury (right now, I have toe tendinitis; after 5 days, it’s almost gone!)…


…or just giving your wallet a rest (have races gotten expensive, or what?), there are tons of ways to set — and reach — goals as a non-competitive runner. Here are a few ways I like to measure achievement — without losing my mind.

1. Run for speed. Get this: You don’t need a Garmin or other device to run for speed. (She said whattt?)

You know what it feels like to run slowly, right? And you know what it feels like to quicken the speed at which your legs are working. Work harder. Run faster. Do the math. It’s pretty self-explanatory, amirite?

That’s not to say you can’t wear a watch. I might not, but by all means, if you’re interested in testing your abilities, then why not go for gold. From the one time I tried it, I know that wearing a watch can be kind of fun. It’s just ultimately not the right mechanism for me.

2. Do it for distance. You don’t need the prospect of failure to gradually increase the number of miles you log week after week. Does a 13.1 mile race in your future help? Of course it does! Can a 26.2 mile race do the trick? Duh.

But even when a race isn’t in the cards, you can still try pushing yourself. How far can you run now. 5 miles? 7? 13? Tack on 2. Then another 2. Then another. Before you know it, you’ll have doubled your distance, and impressed yourself along the way.


3. Streak! You’ve heard of the famous “Run Streak” — the challenge set forth by running magazine editors to jog at least a mile every day for a preset number of days — right? You don’t have to wait around for a publishing bigwig to tell you to get your tush out the door though. Create your own run streak, whether it’s 3 days, 5 days, or 30. Pick a number, and stick to it.

4. Become a champion of hills. Wherever you live, if you’re used to flat surfaces, seek out hills. In Manhattan, it’s easy to do this; just head on over to Central Park and challenge yourself to the beast that is Harlem Hill. Not enough? Do it again. And again. Heck, throw in Cat Hill if that’s not enough.


5. Finish your errands — faster. On weekends, I love replacing public transportation with a good old pair of legs. Determine your route first, and be sure to pick up the heaviest items on your list last. After all, it’d probably be problematic to start your run at the supermarket down the street. Finish with the groceries, and think of lifting and strengthening your biceps as you haul your load home.

6. Make it social. You’ll get no argument from me. This has already been a busy, busy year, and sometimes, it can be difficult to find time to do our jobs, spend time with family, cook healthful meals, and somehow be social, when it’s equally important that we break a sweat and run.

I know tons of people who race with friends. Why not schedule a weekly fun run with a pal or your special someone? Not only is it a great way to spend quality time with the people you love, but the miles tick by quicker than ever.


(My special someone = my cousin!)

7. Keep a mileage diary. A great way to set goals that you can work toward incrementally: establish a predetermined number of miles you want to run in a week, a month, a year — and then do it! Run 10, 20, 100 miles. And remember, just because you’re not technically training for a particular race or event, you can still reward yourself once you’ve reached your personal finish line.

New bag? Lululemon Scuba hoodie? Massage? Ice cream sundae? Whatever it is, know you deserve it and have accomplished big things.

  • What goals do you set when you’re not training for an event?

11 thoughts on “On Setting Goals: 7 Tips for the Novice Runner

  1. Im not much of a runner. Did my first 5k in sept. Was too late for another one 2 wks ago. But since sept. I havent been able to do 3 miles in one run. Im not consistent though, perhaps because i only do it for fun when i have time or when i feel i need a workout.

    This is a great post. And i think setting goals for the sake of doing it, adds more motivation. I shall take these tips into mind. Have a good one!

  2. Love this since I, too, am not training for any big races. Thoughts on improving speed? What have you used to do this? I’ve been throwing a few HIIT treadmill workouts in so far. As always, thank you for your posts Stacy!

    • This might sound overly simple, but one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever gotten: the only way to get faster is to run faster. I know. Duh. But I have actually found that when I focus on incorporating short bursts of speed — whether it’s to the stoplight or around a track — I notice improvements. Other things I’ve learned is that strength training can have a major effect, if you focus on the core, the legs, the glutes, etc.

  3. this might be a strange goal, but when i’m not training (which isn’t so often) for a race, my goal is to sort of not have a goal. to just run for fun. i don’t wear my garmin and don’t measure my miles or map out my runs — i just go and enjoy it. mental recovery between races is key!

  4. This is awesome. I’ve been training FOR races for years and — frankly — I’m getting tired of it! I’m tired of always having a schedule. Always “having” to do things in general. I’m ready to do it for me and not because I don’t want to “lose out on my entry fee.” I have a few more I’m committed to running in 2013 and then 2014 will be FOR ME. It’s decided. Thanks for the motivation. 🙂

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