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The Art of Running: Making SMART Goals

For many people, running is the least favorite of all cardio exercises, far below cycling, hiking, dance, or step classes. For others, it is not only their favorite cardio activity, but it is also a hobby that they simply love. In my experience, however, many people who have tried and hate running have not actually given it a fair chance to prove itself! Running is a difficult sport for beginners to jump into. One can look toward marathon runners who seem to be from another planet and wonder how it is possible that anyone could ever get to that level when they can not yet manage a mile. They may set goals like running a 5K or 10K, or being able to run a 6 minute mile, but this mindset is often not helpful.

Running is also very difficult! Even for highly experienced runners, it is difficult to increase speed or distance. Therefore, it is helpful to manage expectations when beginning to run, because one can generally expect to encounter challenges. One way to rework your mindset to be more helpful and effective when beginning to run is to set great goals and expectations!

There are several steps to creating effective goals for running. The first step is to consider your “why.” Why are you running anyways? It could be to improve health, to feel more connected to nature, as part of a social club, or any number of reasons. Thoughtfully considering your “why” will help you to create goals that match with your overall purpose and will be uplifting in times of low motivation. On a rainy day when you are very low in motivation, your “why” can encourage you to get off the couch more than any other short-term goal.

The second step is to make your SMART goals: goals that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. Goals should be Specific, meaning they should be clearly defined and detailed. Goals should also be Measurable, which means that they include defined amounts and specifics, allowing one to easily calculate whether the goal has been reached. “To run two miles” is measurable because there is a clearly identified amount or distance and one could easily calculate whether they have achieved the goal by using their GPS or running watch. Goals should also be Achievable, meaning you have the resources and ability to achieve the goal. “To run the whole Timberline Trail in Oregon” may not be an achievable goal if you do not have the finances and ability to travel to Oregon. A better goal might be to run one of your local trails. Goals should also be Relevant. Goals should relate to your overarching purpose, your “why”. If your overarching purpose is to achieve better health, then your goals should be related to health. The goal “To beat my biggest competitor in a 10K race” may not be relevant to the purpose of achieving health, whereas “To lose 5 pounds” would be more related to health. Lastly, goals should also be Time-bound. A goal that is set in the distant future is less motivating than a goal that you have a limited amount of time to reach. If my goal is “to run a 5k at some point in my life”, then I have an easy excuse to put it off for a few years! Set a time frame for your goal that is relatively small, but still achievable, so that you are motivated to get started.

The third step is to acknowledge your accomplishments… and to give yourself grace when you do not meet your goal. Running is hard work, so every achievement you make, no matter how small, is a great achievement! Give yourself credit. When you do not meet your goal by your deadline, remind yourself of all the progress you have made, and then re-work your goal. Check to make sure it is a SMART goal and, if not, change it up!

Lastly, keep in mind that forming habits and routines takes time. Odds are, if you only try running once, you won’t enjoy it, so give it a fair try! When I first started running, it took a full month of running every-other-day to develop a habit of running and to see the pleasure in it. But if you have given it a fair try and you still don’t like it, that is alright, too. There are so many great exercises available today, so give them a fair try and see which one fits best for you. Further, no matter what new healthy habit you are trying to begin, these principles still apply! Whether it be exercise, healthy eating, praying, drinking more water, spending time outside, or whatever you want to add to your routine, give it a fair try and develop SMART goals.

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