By Lisbeth Hoyt

As another year of racing ends, the new year is a great time to look back, reflect, and set new goals or intentions for your running. For some of us, these goals may be more general; to run more consistently or work on strength. Others may be more specific; to run a PR, break 2 hours in the half, or quality for Boston. Regardless of what your goal may be, setting one (or a few) is vital to improving overall running performance.

A small study recently examined the effects of goal-setting and performance feedback on increasing running distances. Five new runners met with a researcher each week to set an overall long-term distance goal and weekly short-term goals. Participants were required to set a goal of running at least 3 times a week at the distance of their choosing, and could only progress if they were able to complete 2 of the 3 runs. Weekly meetings also consisted of visual and descriptive performance feedback.

Three participants failed to meet the criteria multiple times, so the researchers implemented a modified version. This intervention consisted of setting short-term goals based on weekly running distance with no minimum number of runs per week in addition to performance feedback. The long-term goal was the number of weekly miles each participant wanted to run by the end of the study.

Despite the small number of participants, the study found that goal-setting helped all participants to increase their weekly running distance. Additionally, weekly positive feedback and praise influenced the runners’ achievement of each goal and their overall running performance.

The bottom line is that even if you think your goal is small, setting one will increase your chances of achieving it. Take advantage of the new year to set both short and long-term goals!

Here are some goal setting tips to get started:

1. Reflect on the previous year of running: what went well, what could be improved, what did you like?

2. Set a multiple goals: one long term and 2-3 short term. They don’t have to be tied to a specific race or distance.

3. Write them down: put your written goals somewhere you can see them for motivation.

4. Say it out loud: say them to yourself, a friend, significant other, a coach. Saying the words (or numbers) will make you more accountable for your actions.

5. Find the tools you need to make it happen. Whether it’s joining a gym for winter running motivation, finding a coach who believes in you, or seeing a PT that keeps you on track, equip yourself with what YOU need to make your goals possible.

6. When you succeed, share your success with those who helped make it possible! We're just as invested in helping you achieve your goals!


Wack, S. R., Crosland, K. A., & Miltenberger, R. G. (2014). Using goal setting and feedback to increase weekly running distance. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 47(1), 181-185. doi:10.1002/jaba.108