When we feel the urge to slow down or stop during running, for some runners this may be the result of the pressure we place on ourselves because we want to reach a particular target. It is common for runners to set themselves targets to help them to improve, and these targets are often based on a time.


Goal-setting relates to identifying what we want to achieve, and putting a plan together on how to get there. When setting goals, it is not just about the outcome, but also how are getting there. To aid this process, we distinguish between three types of goals, outcome, performance, and process goals.


An outcome goal is a goal related to where you want to place in a race, for example an outcome goal could be to finish in the top 5 of your local park run, or in the top 10 of a cross-country race. Performance goals are time-based goals, such as running a sub-three hour marathon. Finally, process goals are goals about the ‘how to get there’, for example to improve your core strength or to work on a smooth stride when considering your running technique.


Performance and outcome goals are helpful as these can give you direction and motivation for training, but on race day focusing too much on an outcome or performance goals can result in feeling pressure to reach these goals. Therefore, we suggest that on race day you focus on process goals, such as your stride, pace, breathing technique, and so on.


How to set goals?


Setting goals can help improve performance because it gives direction to your behaviour and training efforts. When setting goals, it is recommended to take the following points into account to help alleviate the pressure and reduce thoughts around the urge to slow down or stop during running:


1. Set specific and realistic goals, reflect on what your starting point is and where you want to be at the end of the journey and set your goals accordingly. If you recently had an injury, take this into consideration when setting an outcome or performance goal.

2. Set goals that are within your control. If your goals are based predominantly on how other people perform, you may find it difficult to pace your own race. Therefore, focus on your abilities and what you can achieve.

3. Set goals for yourself, that is, you want to set goals that you feel passionate about and that you want to achieve.

4. Word your goals in a positive manner, that is, it is about what you want to achieve (i.e. running the second half faster than the first half) and not about what you don’t want to achieve (for example, not running slower than 5:30 min/km or avoiding a positive split).

5. On race day, we suggest focusing on process goals but we do realise that it is common for runners to have an outcome goal that is often on the forefront of their mind. Therefore, you can consider setting more than one goal on race day to allow for some flexibility when things do not turn out as you expected. For example:

  • a. What is your dream goal? If everything goes well on the day, and your preparation has gone well, this is the one you want to go for.

  • b. What is a realistic goal? There may be some hiccups on the way, but you can still be capable of achieving this time.

  • c. What is an acceptable goal? If things really don’t pan out as you expected, this is a time that you could this be satisfied with.

6. Set (process) goals for different parts of the race, for example setting a goal to focus on keeping a steady pace in the early stage of the race and to focus on your breathing in the late stage of the race.

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