Goal setting – Give yourself a fighting chance

Nov 26, 2019

Race winner

Setting running goals is the first step to creating a balanced and customised training plan, and that process is one that is best undertaken by the athlete and his or her coach together.

There are many factors that lead you to choosing a goal – a friend suggests a race, you see a race on Facebook, you have a desire to do a certain distance such as a marathon etc. There is nothing wrong with selecting a goal based on these things but what does affect you reaching it successfully is your timeline. For example, it’s October and you decide to run the Comrades Marathon in the very next year, but you cannot even run a 10km without walking. The timeline will probably have to be adjusted.

Now, just to be clear, this is not a question of whether you could ever accomplish your goal, but rather whether you can achieve it in the timeline selected.

What can affect your timeline?

  • Purpose- What is the drive behind your goal selection?
  • Fitness – How fit are you now? How fast does your fitness progress?
  • Injury Risk – How easily do you pick up niggles? How easily do you get sick?
  • Schedule – How does your family life affect your training? How does your work affect your training?
  • Other – Weather, environment etc.

The factors listed above are just a few important ones that I have selected to highlight.


This, in my opinion, is the first step to deciding on your goal. Why do you decide on a specific goal?  Weight loss, just fitness, adventure, FOMO, personal challenge and a bunch of others. These reasons are perfectly fine, as long as they are enough for you when the going gets tough and the training gets hard. This is when you will need something to hold on to that provides a solid purpose for your training goal. Depending on your selected goal, there will be a time when you ask yourself, why am I here? You best have a good answer and that is your purpose. So when you decide on a goal, ask yourself, “why am I doing this?” and “will it be worth, the blood, sweat and tears?”.


This, to me, is the second phase. You’ve decided on a goal, so now what? How fit are you? What is the timeline from now until your selected goal? The answer to whether the goal is appropriate or not lies in your current fitness. If you have decided to do the Comrades Marathon next year (again, in say October) but you cannot run a 5km without walking, then you will have to extend your timeline to two years.  If you can run-walk a half marathon, there is a chance that you will make it but it will be a touch and go situation, and then your first marathon qualifier will certainly be your decider. My suggestion is to be patient, take your time and give your body and mind a good chance to keep up. Give yourself extra time and your body will thank you when it comes to race time. So instead of taking 8 – 9 weeks to get to a 5km, take 10 – 12 weeks. Instead of taking 1 year to train for the Comrades Marathon, take 2 or even 3 years.

Injury risk

This follows on from the last point. Deciding to take the extra time to reach your goal is essentially lowering your injury risk. Having the extra time to train means that you can add beneficial strength training exercises into your training. You will have the time to fix your form and posture, which will help you run more efficiently. Cross Training can be added comfortably into your training as well. Adding the above makes your body stronger, therefore lowering the risk of picking up niggles or injuries. You also have time to start and implement an immune boosting regiment into your life. All the time you are adding to reach your goal is making for a stronger happier body and mind.


Adding extra time to reach your goal also allows you to settle into your schedule more gradually. Your family gets a better chance to adjust to your new training schedule, instead of just getting thrown into the ‘deep end’. You also have a chance to better schedule your training into your workday and social life, rather than letting your training take over. I always say that your life should not fit into your running schedule but rather you running schedule should fit into your life.


Perhaps you have a bad training week because there are constant lightning storms, extreme heat or extreme cold. I am not talking about some rain, because we can all run in the rain, I am talking about dangerous conditions. Maybe you have to travel for work. Maybe you’ve scheduled a vacation. There are many other things that can hinder your training for a week, a month and sometimes even longer. Having an extended timeline to your goal allows you to take all the possibilities and probabilities into account. If you’re out for a week or two and are not able to train, you cannot just carry on with your training, you will have to set yourself back somewhat.

In conclusion, it really is about taking one step back and looking at where you are, where you want to go and deciding on an appropriate timeline to get you there. Constantly choosing unrealistic timelines to achieve your goals is going to keep setting you back; you will get injured and/or sick, you will become demotivated and ask yourself why you even bother. If you reach that point, it’s an even harder climb to get back to even easy short runs. Take the time to set adequate timelines for your goals and you will accomplish them as planned, or even better.

Clinton Hunter

Coach Clint is a qualified running coach based in Johannesburg. He trains athletes of all levels from complete beginners to top athletes in disciplines from track athletics to ultra running on road and trail. He is also passionate about Running form & Posture, training the mind,  functional and sport conditioning and fitness training. Read more about Coach Clint here


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