Ideas and goals have similarities, where they are both easy to come up with. However, turning a goal or idea into something actionable becomes more difficult.  By creating a framework for your goal setting, the likelyhood for success rises dramaticvally.

Setting the Primary Goals

The first thing to notice is we encourage multiple goal setting. A marathon is unlike other races where adverse conditions can radically change the desired outcome.  Even an off day can greatly impact ones time.
An example of multiple goals. take a runner who has run 3hr 15 min in a previous marathon. His next goal may be to run under three hours.

  • Running under 3 hours

  • Running under 3 Hours ten minutes

  • Getting a Personal best time

  • Finishing the marathon


The process of goal setting can be overwhelming, especially for first time marathoners.  People are raised not to fail, and this can cause stress when people are put in this position. There are countless running systems, all workable, that sidestep the issue of failure. But this is the may be the most important lesson to learn. Success only comes to those who allow themselves to be vulnerable and even embrace possible failure. That said, the overall goal is to give ourselves the best possible chance of success for our number one goal

How do we do this?

We will make an honest assessment if our primary goal is realistic, and then create smaller sub goals to make the overall task more manageable.

So, before we take the next step of making our sub-goals, we will make an assessment of our primary goal.  Below is a chart to help access if your current target is realistic.

Here is a rough guideline to measure if your current goals are realistic.      

THREE HOURS AND UNDER – If you have run any or all of the following: a marathon under 3 hours and ten minutes, 5k under 18 minutes, 10k under 38 minutes, or a half marathon under 1 hour 24 minutes

FOUR HOURS AND UNDER – If you have run any or all of the following: a marathon under 4 hours and ten minutes, 5k under 24 minutes, 10k under 50 minutes, or a half marathon under 1 hour and 50 minutes

 FIVE HOURS AND UNDER – If you have run any or all of the following: a marathon under 5 hours and ten minutes, 5k under 29 minutes, 10k under 1 hour and 3 minutes, or a half marathon under 2 hour and 20 minutes

 FIVE HOURS AND OVER – If you haven’t run any races to get a gauge on your time, or if you haven’t YET broken 5 hours, then it is better not to have any specific time in mind.

Setting Sub Goals

Once we have set our main goal, we need to break this goal into sub goals before we start creating our plan. The key to successful goal setting for marathons or any other endeavor is to spend more time on the small goals, then the large one.

How do we formulate the smaller or sub goals? In the case of completing a marathon, or getting a new PR, the process is the same. We can start both with our own experience and combine it with researched data we have accumulated. The ask questions, such as What are the areas of weakness and what can help overcome those shortfalls.

Using a runner who has the potential to run sub 3-hour as an example. They may use another plan for reference where there is a build up phase for three months and establish a new base before moving on to the workout phase.
So his overall goal may be to hit 750 miles with in this time period. To hit this sub goal he then makes smaller goals to get 7-10 workouts a week in by the end of this session.
In addition he may have determined he needs to work on the strength component, so he may  focus on trying to incorporate more hills runs.
After the Build up section, and reading how speed is often overlooked for marathoners, he may want to spend more time on this, then previous marathon sessions.
Every race is different. For example, many runners have a very hard time with the Boston marathon. Downhills can damage the quads. In shorter races this isn’t a problem. But in marathon down hill marathons use different muscles. So one of the mini goals would be to incorporate long down hills into the training.

It is best to keep this step fluid and dynamic. Often when taking on a big endeavor, people have a tendency to over commit and overestimate their ability to adapt to their new schedule.
Being aware this is normal. Too many times I have seen  people failing at the small goals which cause anxiety and frustration. Instead of plowing ahead they give up.

Conflicting goals and how to handle them

Sometimes goals conflict with each other. Before jumping to the planning stage it is better to sit back and see how this conflict can be resolved. An example of this type of conflict is a person that want to hit a new time goal , but they only have a small window of time to get the training in.

  Success is based on the ability readjust the sub-goals to a realistic level. This may cause a readjustment to the primary goal. That is OK. There is no shame to not having expectations, which are usually artificial and inflated. Sometimes s goal such as breaking 3 hours simply cant be done within a specified time frame. So put the effort on what can be accomplished and change the main goal if necessary. Sometimes delaying a goal is the better option.

Once we have the goals defined then it is time to start constructing a plan.
Click on the below button for the next step.

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